Divorce / Civil Partnership Dissolution


A divorce is the process that brings to an end a marriage between a heterosexual couple. The label dissolution is applied to the same process that ends a civil partnership between a same-sex couple. With few exceptions (which we identify), the differences between a divorce and a dissolution are largely confined to the terminology used.

Accordingly, we use the term partner below, which can be read as meaning a husband, wife or civil partner.

Grounds for divorce / dissolution

There is only one ground. To obtain a divorce / dissolution it is only necessary to prove to the court that the marriage or civil partnership has broken down irretrievably.

This break-down is demonstrated by establishing one or more of the following facts:

  • In the case of a marriage only, that your partner has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with them;
  • In the case of a marriage or civil partnership:
    • that your partner has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to continue living with them;
    • that your partner has deserted you for at least two years;
    • that you and your partner have lived apart for at least two years and he or she consents to a divorce being granted;
    • that you and your partner have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years.

How long it takes to obtain a divorce / dissolution depends on a number of things, such as how co-operative your partner is, how quickly you both complete the documentation and return it to the court and how busy the court is. The speed at which the court will deal with your documents varies from court to court, and can be unpredictable. As a rule of thumb, however, unless there are any complicating factors a divorce / dissolution can be achieved in between four and six months.

The process

The legal process is started by one partner issuing a divorce / dissolution Petition. The person who starts the process is called the Petitioner. The other partner is called the Respondent.

Where there are children, you must also complete and file a form called a Statement of Arrangements setting out the current arrangements for the care of the children.

All of our solicitors are members of resolution, which is an organisation committed to the constructive management of the consequences of relationship breakdown. Therefore, where you are the Petitioner and in appropriate circumstances, we would seek to agree the content of the draft Petition with your partner. This can avoid further animosity and therefore increased costs further down the line.

Once issued, the Petition is sent to the Respondent together with a form that the Respondent must complete. This is called an Acknowledgement of Service. The Respondent must complete the form and return it to the court within a specified period. In this form, the Respondent confirms whether the Petition is opposed, and if so on what basis.

What happens next depends on whether the Respondent intends to oppose the Petition. In the vast majority of cases, Petitions are not contested. Assuming that is the case, once the Acknowledgment of Service has been filed with the Court, the Petitioner you can apply for Decree Nisi (in divorce) or a Conditional Order (in a dissolution). There is no difference between the two apart from the label. This is the first of the two decrees of divorce / dissolution. That application will be considered by a Judge who will decide whether the Petitioner is entitled to a divorce / dissolution on the facts contained in the Petition. If so, a date will be fixed for pronouncement of Decree Nisi / a Conditional Order.

The significance of Decree Nisi / Conditional Order is that it is effectively a provisional finding that the relationship should be legally dissolved. It demonstrates that you and your partner are committed to the process. The Decree Nisi / Conditional Order means you cannot withdraw from the process without the Court’s permission.

The second decree is called either Decree Absolute (divorce) or Final Order (dissolution). Again, the only difference is the name. The Petitioner may apply for the second decree six weeks and one day following pronouncement of Decree Nisi / Conditional Order. Once that is done, a certificate of Decree Absolute / Final Order is issued which formally ends the legal relationship for all official purposes, both here and abroad. It is a public document held in a public register.

If the Petitioner does not apply for the second decree, the Respondent may do so but he or she has to wait longer before being able to make the application.

Occasionally (and unusually), the Respondent may say that they intend to defend the Petition. If that is so, a different procedure will be followed than that set out above, but even if the Petition is defended, the vast majority of cases end with the divorce / dissolution being granted. The most common consequence of a Petition being opposed is an increase in both parties’ costs and a degree of delay. Nonetheless, if a Petition appears to be defended (for whatever reason), expert advice should be sought.

As mentioned above, the divorce / dissolution process takes approximately four to six months. The Decree Nisi / Conditional Order must be in place before the Judge has the authority to make substantive decisions in relation to financial matters. In practice, the second decree is often not sought until those financial matters have been resolved, either by agreement or through a Judge’s decision.

Generally, it does not matter who is the Petitioner. It is of no consequence to what then happens with the financial claims or about children. Perhaps the only advantage from being the Petitioner is a slightly greater degree of control over the speed of the process.

How can we help?

  • Advise generally about the grounds for divorce / dissolution, and the facts that might be appropriate in your case to prove your relationship has broken down;
  • Prepare and submit on your behalf to the court your divorce / dissolution Petition and supporting documents;
  • If you are the Respondent, consider the Petition and advise whether it would be in your interests to oppose the divorce / dissolution;
  • Represent you throughout the process all the way through to the second, final, decree.

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