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Your Guide to the Divorce Process

Getting divorced can be one of the most stressful experiences in a person’s life. In addition to the emotional upheaval of ending a long-term relationship, there may be considerable anxiety concerning children and financial issues.

Legislation that came into force in April 2022, brought significant changes to the divorce process in England and Wales. All divorces are now on a “no-fault” basis. When the legislation was introduced we, at Wilson Browne, were of the view that this change would simplify the unnecessarily complex and adversarial process that previously existed, and so it has proved.

Our team of family law solicitors has been recognised by the Legal 500 (a who’s who of the legal profession) continue to help couples through the new divorce process.

In this guide, we explain the divorce process and answer some common questions that may arise.


What are the grounds for divorce in the England and Wales?

There is only one ground for divorce in England and Wales, being the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

This has not changed however, under the previous system, someone seeking a divorce had to show that one of the following facts applied in order to prove that the marriage had broken down irretrievably: unreasonable behaviour, adultery, separation for two years (with both parties consenting to the divorce), separation for five years (without the consent of one party) or desertion.

Under the new system, these requirements are removed and only evidence of the irretrievable breakdown is required.

What was wrong with the old system?

Many legal experts felt that the process was unnecessarily antagonistic, leading to acrimony and delays to the process.

For example, a person accused of adultery or unreasonable behaviour might feel obliged to contest the divorce simply to protect their reputation. This could lead to an extremely stressful experience for both parties. If a person wanted to issue the equivalent of a “no-fault” divorce under the previous regime, in circumstances where the other party did not consent to the divorce, they would have to wait for 5 years after separating.

In the above scenarios, the ill feeling created by the process could make it difficult for the couple to reach amicable solutions on issues such as finances and child arrangements.

Aside from the above, some of the old terminology has now been updated in order to make things easier to understand for those going through the process. For example, “petition” has been replaced with “application”, “decree nisi” with “conditional order” and “decree absolute”

How does the new system work?

Under the new “no-fault” system, an individual seeking a divorce simply needs to be of the view that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. They do not need to rely on any facts in support.

The new system makes it much harder for someone to contest a divorce. For this reason, it is hoped that the changes will make it easier for both parties to accept the situation and move on.

In addition to the above, couples now have the option of jointly applying for a divorce, which previously was not possible. The intention behind this is to reflect that divorce can be a joint decision, rather than one person “divorcing” the other.

Statistics recently released by the Law Society indicate that around 25% of all divorces are jointly applied for.

It is worth noting that it remains possible for either party to apply for a divorce individually and indeed, the majority of divorces are still applied for by one party only

Does it matter if it is a joint or solo application?

The first point to consider before starting the divorce process is whether it will be a joint or solo application.

As discussed above, most divorces continue to be applied for by a sole applicant.

This could be for a variety of reasons, sometimes simply because one person wishes to get the process moving without the potential delay of jointly preparing an application. If tensions are high or the split was acrimonious, preparing a joint application could be difficult.

One might also want to issue a solo application if they, or their spouse, are entitled to apply for divorce in a country other than England and Wales.

Different jurisdictions may be more or less favourable to a party in terms of both financial matters and child custody arrangements. Depending on their circumstances, parties will seek to issue the divorce in their preferred jurisdiction.

Parties can make a joint application if they both agree to a divorce. With a joint application, each party will have to separately confirm that they wish to continue with the divorce at each stage of the process.

If, during the process, either party fails to respond or stops responding, the other will be able to continue with the divorce as a sole applicant.

In short, it does not matter whether a party makes a solo application for divorce or a joint application. Parties still have the same entitlement to apply to the court for financial provision.

Also, in England and Wales at least, applications in respect of child arrangements are dealt with no differently whether parties were married or cohabiting during the relationship.

What do I need to do before I apply for a divorce in England and Wales?

The first thing to do is establish whether you are entitled to a divorce in England and Wales. Whilst the process has been simplified by the new legislation, you must still be able to show that:

  • You have been married for more than a year.
  • Your marriage has irretrievably broken down.
  • The marriage is legally recognised in England and Wales (this includes same-sex marriages).

Other considerations

On divorce, consideration will need to be given as to how assets will be divided, as well as arrangements for any children of the family.

For children, the key points to consider include:

  • Which parent the children will live with, or whether shared care is appropriate,
  • The frequency of contact that the other parent will have with the children (e.g. weekly, fortnightly, monthly, etc)
  • Indirect contact the non-resident parent will have (e.g. phone calls, text messages, etc)
  • How holidays and special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays are managed.

When dividing up assets it is important to consider:

  • Property
  • Money
  • Contents
  • Investments
  • Liabilities
  • Pensions

What help is available in agreeing on the terms of divorce?


It is recommended that you and your spouse each appoint divorce solicitors to assist in discussions concerning finances and children matters.

At Wilson Browne Solicitors, we have a wealth of experience in divorce issues and a successful track record of helping couples resolve disagreements.


Divorcing couples are increasingly using mediation as a way of reaching agreements on matters relating to children and finances, thereby avoiding the need for court hearings.

Mediation sessions provide a safe, neutral, and confidential environment in which the separating couple can discuss issues and explore potential solutions.

They are guided by an independent mediator (an expert in family law specially trained for the role) which can be an effective way of resolving disputes.

The advantages of using mediation include:

  • It is more cost-effective and quicker than going to court.
  • It avoids the adversarial nature of court, with the focus on the couple working together constructively to find mutually acceptable solutions.
  • The process is more flexible than a court hearing – sessions can be scheduled around work and childcare commitments.
  • The confidential nature of the sessions may make it easier for couples to air their true feelings.
  • The couples have the satisfaction of knowing that they have contributed to the agreed solution – rather than having one imposed by a court. This may make it easier for them to accept the settlement and move on with their lives.

How do I apply for a divorce in the UK?

Once you are ready to go ahead your application for a divorce can be made online.

There is a fee of £593 – help with this may be available if you are on benefits or a low income.

You will need the following:

  • the full name and address of you and your spouse
  • your marriage certificate
  • proof of any change of name since you married

Your application will be checked and, if everything is in order, you will receive confirmation that it has been approved and given a case number.

If you made a solo application, your spouse will be notified about the application. They will have 14 days to respond to the application and say whether they support the application or intend to dispute it.

Under the new system, there are fewer reasons for the respondent spouse to oppose the divorce, limited to jurisdictional grounds or the validity of marriage.

In the event of a dispute, a court hearing may be necessary for a judge to reach a decision.

Applying for a conditional order

Under the new legislation, you must wait for a period of 20 weeks from when your divorce application was issued before applying for a conditional order.

The conditional order is an interim stage of the divorce process and confirms that you are entitled to a divorce.

If the court accepts your application, you and your spouse will both be sent a certificate. This will confirm the time and date at which your conditional order comes into effect.

It is important to be aware that you and your spouse are still married even after the conditional order comes into effect.

Applying for final order

Final order is the stage that brings your marriage to an end and means that you and your spouse are divorced.

You must wait for at least 6 weeks and 1 day from when the conditional order came into effect before applying for the final order of divorce.

There may be circumstances where it is advisable to delay any application for the final order until financial matters have been resolved.

On applying for the final order of divorce, your application will be checked and, if approved, the order will be made. On the making of the final order, the divorce is final and you are no longer married.

How long does the divorce process take in England and Wales?

The divorce process under the new legislation takes approximately 7 to 9 months.

As mentioned above, there will be situations where it will be necessary to delay the application for the final divorce order.

How much does a divorce cost in the England and Wales?

There is a fee of £593 to apply for a divorce (there may be help available for people on benefits and low incomes).

Fees for solicitors and mediation will depend on the complexity of the case and the amount of help required.

At Wilson Browne, we pride ourselves on offering excellent service at an affordable price.

We will be totally transparent with our charges so that you know what the cost will be before deciding whether to use our services.

Where can I get more help and advice on my divorce?

We recognise how difficult an experience getting a divorce is and are committed to helping to ease the strain with our friendly, professional, and sensitive divorce service.

Wilson Browne can be there for you every step of the way – helping you with negotiations and guiding you through mediation and the court process.

Our offices in Corby, Higham Ferrers & Rushden, Kettering, Leicester, Northampton, and Wellingborough allow us to offer a face-to-face meeting at a location near you. We will also be delighted to arrange a home visit for clients with mobility issues.

More on Divorce from Wilson Browne Solicitors:

How Do You Calculate a Fair Divorce Settlement?

Is There Such A Thing As A Good Divorce?

Who gets the house in a divorce