How do I apply to the court for a divorce?

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If you wish to apply to the court for a divorce but you don’t want to pay a solicitor to act for you and complete all the paperwork, here’s some free family law guidance on what to do.

Complete a D8 Divorce Petition

You will need to complete a form D8 Divorce Petition. You can do this online or by post by downloading and filling in a divorce application form D8.

The divorce petition requires:

What happens next?

1: Once the court has processed the paperwork it will send copies of the petition to you, your ex and the named co-respondent (if included – we don’t advise naming a co-respondent for reasons set out here)

This process normally takes around 2-3 weeks although it can take longer.

2: Your ex, who is the respondent, must acknowledge receiving the petition by returning the ‘D10 Acknowledgement of Service’ (which will have accompanied the petition) to the court. On this form, the respondent will need to indicate whether they are going to defend/oppose the divorce or not.

3: Once the court has received the acknowledgement, a signed copy will then be sent to you, enabling you to apply for a Decree Nisi.

What’s a Decree Nisi?

The decree nisi is often referred to as the first divorce order but it does not end the marriage. It confirms that you are entitled to bring the marriage to an end.  It means that all the procedural and legal requirements to obtain a divorce have been met.

You can file an application for a Decree Nisi using Form D80. A ‘D84 Statement in Support’ needs to be sent along with the D80 Application, confirming details in the petition.

You can still apply for a Decree Nisi even if your ex decides to defend/oppose the divorce but it will require a court hearing to discuss the case. The judge will decide whether to grant a Decree Nisi or not at the hearing.

If the divorce is not defended you will not need to go to a hearing. The judge will look at the file in your absence and grant a Decree Nisi if he decides that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.  That depends on you having satisfied the judge that one of the five grounds for divorce is justified. The judge may refuse to grant a Decree Nisi and divorce if the grounds are not sufficient. This is why your statement of grounds must give some examples of unreasonable behaviour.

Certificate of Entitlement

When the judge has reviewed your case and decided you are entitled to a divorce, the court will issue a Certificate of Entitlement.  This is a document stating your Decree Nisi will be pronounced on a certain date. This happens in the court but you do NOT need to attend court for this.

Decree Absolute

After the Decree Nisi has been granted, you have to wait 43 days (6 weeks and a day) before you can apply for a Decree Absolute to end the marriage. This period is a cooling off period to ensure you are certain that a divorce is what you want.

If you don’t apply for a Decree Absolute within 12 weeks of the first opportunity to do so (in other words, within 12 weeks after the 43 days following the granting of the Decree Nisi), then your ex can apply to the court for the Decree Absolute. If this happens then the Judge will set a date for a hearing to invite you both to court to ask why you have not applied. If you say it’s because the financial circumstances have not been resolved the application for the decree absolute may be rejected pending an order as to the finances being sought. Only when the judge is satisfied the Decree Absolute can be pronounced will you be divorced.

The financial settlement

During the period while waiting for the decree absolute, a financial order about any property and finances needs to be agreed or sought. This is a legally binding order that details the financial division of assets. It’s important. Getting legal advice about this is crucial, so don’t delay.  Find a solicitor to help you if you can afford it. If not, Advice Now, can help with finding a solicitor and has a useful guide to making a financial agreement yourself.

If there’s no house or other other high value assets then you may already have split household contents, sorted out any joint bank or building society accounts and anything else you’ve jointly owned, so it’s already dealt with.

More Free Family Law Advice

Go back to our family advice hub to see answers to many other some common questions about family law matters.