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There are effectively four stages of a divorce - if you and your spouse agree at each step, the process will usually take around four months to complete but disagreements can mean the divorce takes much longer and the costs can quickly mount up.
Step one - grounds for divorce
In order for the court to grant you a divorce, a reason must be given for the break down of the marriage. Adultery, unreasonable behaviour and desertion are all fair grounds for divorce though you will need to provide evidence to support your claims. If you have been separated for more than two years, you can also apply for a divorce, provided your spouse agrees in writing. Those who have been living apart for more than five years need no such agreement, though husband or wife may object if the divorce causes them "extreme" (eg. financial) difficulties.
Step two - filing for divorce
To begin the process, you (or your solicitor) will need to fill in a divorce petition, available from HM Courts Service. Either your original marriage certificate or a copy ordered from the register office must be included to get the ball rolling and those with children under the age of 16 (or under 18 if still in education or training) must state what arrangements have been made with regards to the children.
Once the petition has been filed, a copy will be sent to your spouse, along with a 'notice of proceedings' form. They then have eight days to fill out the 'acknowledgement of service' form and return it. As the petitioner, you will also receive notice that your spouse has been notified.
The cost of filing a divorce petition is currently £340, though your legal advisor will add their own charges.
Step three - Decree nisi
Providing your spouse does not wish to defend the divorce, the next step is getting a decree nisi. A sworn affidavit is required to confirm that your reasons for divorce are true and this must be witnessed by a solicitor or a member of court staff before submission.
Once the paperwork has been properly filled out and returned, a judge will review the case and send notice as to when you can formally divorce. As long as there are no disputes, you will then receive a 'decree nisi'. If the judge disagrees that you can divorce, you may be required to provide more information or attend a formal court hearing - should that be the case, it is worth seeking legal advice.
Step four - Decree absolute
The decree absolute is the document that legally ends your marriage. As the petitioner you may apply for the decree absolute six weeks and one day after the decree nisi has been issued. If, however, it was your spouse who started divorce proceedings, you will need to wait an additional three months before applying. It is advisable to apply within 12 months of the decree nisi as any further delay will need to be explained to the court.
A further form is required to apply for the decree absolute, which currently involves a £45 fee. Once the court is happy with the paperwork (and arrangements made for children) the decree absolute will be issued and your marriage is legally over.