Help with divorce

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– Chambers and Partners UK Guide 

Our specialist team work with a full range of clients and ensure that we tailor our advice to you at every stage. We appreciate that relationship breakdowns can be distressing. We are both experienced and sensitive and will explain your options and their consequences clearly and carefully.

The divorce process – that is, the dissolution of your marriage – is straightforward. We use a modern online portal to obtain divorces on behalf of our clients. Currently, in order to obtain a divorce, you need to demonstrate fault or have been separated for a certain length of time. We can advise you on the best approach to take in your circumstances. We take time to explain the procedure relating to divorce law and how best to obtain a divorce with minimum fuss. We also listen to your concerns and anticipate any potential problems.

From autumn 2021, we are anticipating that you will be able to divorce on a no fault basis, thus further simplifying the divorce process.

You also need to consider how you will deal with your shared finances and with arrangements for your children.


Common questions on divorce

There is only one ground for divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This is proved by reference to either adultery, unreasonable behaviour, separation or desertion.  

The process is now all online. Either you can do this yourself or we can manage it for you. There is a court fee of £550 to pay.

The court will issue your petition, and your spouse must then complete the acknowledgement of service within a specified timeframe.

Providing this has been completed, you can apply to court for your decree nisi.

A judge will then consider your divorce petition, confirm that you are entitled to a divorce, and issue your decree nisi. This is the first of two decrees. It is at this stage that the court can approve any financial agreement reached between you and your spouse.

Six weeks and one day following decree nisi, or when your finances have been agreed if later, you can apply for decree absolute. This is the final decree, and legally ends your marriage.

The above is based on a typical divorce. There can be complications if, for example, your spouse doesn’t return the acknowledgement of service.

In order to obtain a divorce you must show the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. To do this you must demonstrate to the court that one of the following five specific circumstances exists:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Two years’ separation – with your spouse’s consent
  • Five years’ separation
  • Two years’ desertion.

As indicated above, the law is changing and it will soon be possible to obtain a divorce without alleging any fault.


Adultery is an act of sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex, who is not your spouse. You can commence divorce proceedings immediately on this basis.

In order for you to rely on an act of adultery, you must have found out about it no more than 6 months before you petition for divorce. When the adultery took place isn’t relevant – it is when you became aware of it which is the key date. It is no longer necessary to name the person with whom the adultery took place or indeed to involve them in the court proceedings and we advise that they are not named.

Unreasonable behaviour is where you consider your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to continue to live with him or her. You can commence divorce proceedings immediately on this basis. We advise that you try to agree the particulars of behaviour with your spouse prior to filing the petition as this can ensure that the divorce proceeds more smoothly.

The test for what is or is not unreasonable is subjective and the court will consider what is unreasonable to you personally. The behaviour need not consist of violence, drug or alcohol addiction or other extreme behaviour. A combination of less obviously unreasonable behaviour can be sufficient. 

If you and your spouse agree to apply for divorce, then you can apply after you have been separated for 2 years. One of you starts the divorce and the other provides their consent to it. You need to demonstrate to the court that you have been living separately. This can be in the same property but you must be in separate households. This means living separately, cooking your own meals and doing your own laundry, for example.

Desertion means that your spouse or civil partner has left you without your agreement and without good reason.

In order to rely on desertion to apply for divorce, you need to establish the following.

  • You no longer live with your spouse and have not lived with them for a continuous period of 2 years immediately before the petition is filed at court.
  • You did not consent to the separation. It is the intention of your spouse to permanently stop living with you.
  • Your spouse does not have a reasonable cause for wishing to stop living you.

Desertion is rarely used to obtain a divorce as it is not easy to prove and often another fact can be used in its place.

No. There are other options if you are not sure whether you want to end your marriage. We can discuss these at length with you and you can take your time to consider your options. We have set out some of the options below.

Separation on an informal basis

You and your spouse make the decision to separate and agree between you what financial arrangements are going to be in place during your separation.

Separation supported by a separation agreement

A separation agreement is drawn up by solicitors which sets out the agreed financial arrangements for the period of separation.

The agreement would usually set out how you would like your finances to be divided should you subsequently decide to divorce. On a subsequent divorce, the court is not obliged to follow the terms of the agreement, but it is a significant factor the court would take into consideration, especially if the agreement has been negotiated between solicitors and supported by financial disclosure from you both.

Judicial separation

This is a formal separation recognised by the court. The process is similar to the divorce process, in that a petition for judicial separation is submitted based on similar reasons as for divorce, as set out above. You do not, however, have to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

A decree of judicial separation does not end the marriage. The court is able to make many of the same financial orders that can be made on divorce, save that it cannot make orders in relation to pension sharing.

Applications for judicial separation are rare, and may often arise where there are strong cultural or religious reasons for not wishing to divorce

Yes. To be separated for the purposes of divorce, all you have to show is that you and your spouse or partner are living apart. Even if you and your spouse are living under the same roof, you can be living apart if you maintain separate households and lead completely separate lives.

Living apart under the same roof can be evidenced by the fact that you and your spouse no longer do the following:

  • Sleep together
  • Cook and eat together
  • Watch television together
  • Carry out domestic chores such as cleaning, washing and ironing for one another

Decree nisi is the first stage of the two-part divorce order which culminates in decree absolute. It means that the court is satisfied that you or your spouse have proved the contents of the petition and are entitled to a divorce. It confirms that the court does not see any reason why you cannot divorce.

This is the final court order in divorce proceedings . It means that your marriage is legally at an end and you are both free to remarry. You need to wait at least 6 weeks after the date of the decree nisi before you can apply for a decree absolute. The delay is a cooling off period which gives you a chance to discuss other issues such as your finances with your spouse before the marriage formally comes to an end.

Typically, a straightforward, undefended divorce takes between 4 to 6 months from issuing the divorce petition at court to obtaining the decree absolute. Other than the compulsory delay of 6 weeks between decree nisi and decree absolute, it can take some time for the court to process the paperwork and for your spouse to return the documentation required.

This period can therefore take less time if your spouse agrees and cooperates, and the court deals with the paperwork efficiently.  

The law is very clear that violence should never be a feature of any relationship and those who are violent to their husband, wife or partner will be committing a criminal offence by behaving in that way.

If you are suffering violence from your husband/wife/partner, you should call the police. There are also a number of organisations that give help and support to those suffering from violence in the home as victims of violence often feel as if they are trapped and powerless to help themselves.

The family court is also able to make an injunction order either prohibiting a spouse or partner from being violent or removing a violent partner from the home. You can always talk to our family lawyers to discuss your situation.

This will depend on the financial needs, responsibilities and resources of you and your spouse. Often, the family home is the main asset of the marriage, and sometimes there is not enough equity in the property to house both parties.

The court’s first consideration is the welfare of any children of the marriage.

Our expert family solicitors can advise on the best strategy to try and keep your house if that is what you want.

A business is not automatically protected on divorce and is likely to be treated as a matrimonial asset, and therefore in the pot for sharing.

The first step is to ascertain the value of the business before working out how to deal with it in the context of a divorce. This can be done by jointly appointing an accountant. The business is a capital asset and also an income source.

The family court tends to leave the business with the owner and compensate the other spouse with other capital resources of the marriage and/or spousal maintenance.

The aim of the court is to distribute the resources of the marriage fairly.

The family court does not become involved with the arrangements for children unless you and your spouse cannot agree on where the children live and how the children spend time with you. The court encourages parents to try and agree the arrangements for the children directly or with the help of mediation.

Other issues that arise between parents include issues with child maintenance, choice of school, medical treatment, relocating abroad or the child’s surname. If these issues cannot be resolved directly, you can apply for an order from the court.

When the court considers an application relating to a child, the most important consideration is the child’s welfare and what is in their best interests.

Please refer to our page on arrangements for children for more information 

If you have a question that isn’t here or would like advice from one of our family solicitors on divorce, then do get in touch with the family team on +44 (0)1892 506 275.

Key Contact

Claire Tollefson

Managing Associate

+44 (0)1892 506 191

Key Contact

Mairi Woodward


+44 (0)1892 489 572

Key Contact

Nicola Shewan

Legal Secretary

+44 (0)1892 506 246

Key Contact

Alex Davies


+44 (0)20 7591 3314

Key Contact

Camilla Hooper

Senior Associate

+44 (0)20 7591 3312

Key Contact

Simon Donald


+44 (0)20 7591 3320

Key Contact

Sarah Stone

Legal Secretary

+44 (0)1892 506 275

Key Contact

Vanda James


+44 (0)1892 506 184

Key Contact

Helen Fisher

Managing Associate

+44 (0)1892 506 258

Key Contact

Katy-Louise Allen

Senior Associate

+44 (0)1892 506 305