I want to get divorced or separated – where do I start?

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When you have made your mind up that you want to get divorced or separated, it can be hard knowing where to start. In this free family law advice article, we look at how you can initiate the divorce or separation process.

To get divorced:

  • You must have been married for more than a year;
  • Your marriage must be legally recognised in the UK (this includes same-sex marriage); and
  • You must have a permanent home in England or Wales.

If you don’t meet these criteria, you might be able to get a legal separation (for more information on separation, look here).

For information about how to annul the marriage, look here.

What are grounds for divorce?

You have to prove that your marriage has broken down irretrievably. To do this you must prove one of the following:

  • Unreasonable Behaviour – you will need examples;
  • Adultery – You do not need to name anyone for adultery but if you do they are called the co-respondent. The co-respondent must be of the opposite sex;
  • 2 Years Separation (both sides need to agree);
  • 5 years Separation (both parties do not need to agree);
  • Desertion for 2 years

For more information on the definitions of each of these, see What are unreasonable behaviour, adultery, separation and desertion? and for examples of reasons given for divorce, see What are the reasons I can give to get a divorce?

The first two grounds involve blame and so they’re the most tricky to deal with as they can so easily make matters worse – proceed carefully.

What are the grounds for divorce in same sex marriage and civil partnership?

The same grounds apply to same sex marriages.

They also apply to dissolving a civil partnership, except for adultery, as currently, this does not apply to a same-sex couple. A same sex couple would cite unreasonable behaviour instead.

What do I need to start a divorce?

1: If you have grounds and want to divorce, you will need a certified copy of your marriage certificate. If you can’t find the certificate, a copy can be requested either from the local Registry Office where you got married or you can order a copy of your marriage certificate from GOV.UK.

If you were married outside England and Wales and your marriage certificate requires translating, the court must have a certified legal translation (the certification relates to its accuracy and truthfulness) plus the original marriage certificate.

2: You will need to know the current address of your spouse. If you don’t know, and can’t find out the address, you will need to prove to the court that you have taken all reasonable steps to find the address. This could include:

  • Writing to their last known address;
  • Phoning a last known phone number;
  • Contacting friends and family to see if they know;
  • Contacting them through their employer;
  • Searching social media etc.

If you do this, keep records of everything you do along with copies of letters and emails you send, proof of posting, details of phone calls you made who to, when, and the outcomes. You must be able to show to the court that you’ve taken ‘all reasonable steps’. If all these fail, you could use a tracing service to locate them. The court will need to grant special dispensation if your spouse cannot be located so it’s going to save time and money if you can do the legwork and find out the address.

Need more divorce and separation advice? We have a series of articles in our free family law advice hub.

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