Getting a divorce or ending your civil partnership

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

If you want to end your marriage, you can apply for a divorce. If you want to end your civil partnership, you can apply for a dissolution. The process is the same for both.

You don’t need to give a reason to get a divorce or dissolution - this is sometimes called ‘no fault’. 

You can only get a divorce or dissolution after you’ve been married or in your civil partnership for at least 1 year. If it’s been under 1 year you can find out how to separate from your partner.

You and your partner only need to make 1 application between you. You can send the application from:

  • both of you together - called a joint application

  • just you or your partner - called a sole application

If you’re the respondent in a divorce or dissolution application and you want to dispute it, you should speak to a solicitor first. You can find out how to respond to a divorce or dissolution application on GOV.UK.

Important

If you need to speak with someone about your partner being aggressive

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

You can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

If you're a man affected by domestic abuse you can call Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

If you’re unsure about what to do next, talk to an adviser.

Before you apply

You and your partner should try to agree:

If you haven’t agreed what to do with money, your home or children, you can still apply for a divorce or dissolution.

If you’re not sure you want a divorce or dissolution, you can find relationship counselling services on the NHS website.

If you have a visa to live in the UK

If you’re a dependant on your partner’s visa, you’ll lose your visa once your divorce or dissolution is finished.

You might need to apply for a new visa. If you don’t have a visa you might have to leave the UK. You can find out how to stay in the UK on a visa without your partner.

Check how long a divorce or dissolution takes

A divorce or dissolution will take at least 6 months to complete, even if your circumstances are straightforward. It might take longer if you need to sort out issues with money, property or children. These things will be dealt with separately to your divorce or dissolution.

Decide how to pay the costs

You’ll need to pay a court fee of £593 when you apply for a divorce or dissolution. You might also have other costs if you're going to use a solicitor.

You can share the court fee with your partner.

If you’re sharing the fee with your partner but you’re going to make the application, get payment from your partner before you pay the fee.  

Check if you can get help with the court fee

If you’ll struggle to pay the court fee you might be able to get help with it. For example, you might get help if you get benefits or have a low income. 

You should apply for help with the court fee before you apply for a divorce or dissolution.

If only one of you is eligible for help, it’s best for that person to make a sole application for the divorce or dissolution. If you’re making a joint application with your partner, you can only get help with the court fee if you’re both eligible. 

You can check if you can get help with your court fee on GOV.UK

Deciding if you need a solicitor

It’s a good idea to get legal advice before you start your divorce or dissolution. 

A solicitor can:  

  • speak to your partner and their solicitor so you don’t have to

  • represent you in court - this means they'll talk for you so you don’t have to 

  • make sure you get the best result

Make sure you get a solicitor who specialises in divorce or dissolution. You might need to look outside your local area.

You can find a solicitor on the Resolution website.

You can also check how to find​​ free or affordable legal help.

Check who should pay the divorce or dissolution costs

You should try to agree with your partner who will pay the costs of the divorce or dissolution. You could share the costs between you. It’s best to agree this before you start the divorce or dissolution application. 

If you can’t agree with your partner, you can apply to the court to decide. You’ll need to do this separately to your divorce or dissolution and there’ll be an extra fee. 

It’s unlikely the court would make your partner pay costs unless they’ve made the divorce or dissolution process more difficult. You should get legal advice first. You can check how to find​​ free or affordable legal help.

Steps to get divorced or end your civil partnership

If you applied for your divorce or dissolution before 6 April 2022

The steps are different because the law changed. You can still:

If you need advice about what to do with money, home or children, you can get help with deciding what to do when you separate.

To get divorced or end your civil partnership, you’ll need to:

  1. Decide who should apply 

  2. Get the information and documents you’ll need

  3. Fill in the application 

  4. Check how your partner will be told about the application

  5. Find out how your partner can respond

  6. Ask for a conditional order 

  7. Ask for a final order - this completes the divorce or dissolution 

1. Decide who should apply 

You can apply for a divorce or dissolution on your own or with your partner. If you do it on your own it’s called a sole application. If you do it with your partner it’s called a joint application. 

You should only do a joint application if you’re sure you’ll be able to agree with your partner throughout the whole divorce or dissolution process. If you start a joint application you can change to a sole application later but the earliest you can do this is 20 weeks after the application.

If you do a sole application you’ll be called the ‘applicant’ and your partner will be called the ‘respondent’.

If you apply with your partner using a joint application, one of you will be called ‘applicant 1’ and the other ‘applicant 2’. 

If you’re going to be applicant 1 you’ll start the application and also pay the court fee. Your partner will be able to check the application before it’s sent but you’ll need to get their share of the fee from them yourself.

2. Get the information and documents you’ll need 

You’ll need your marriage or civil partnership certificate to help you fill in the details on the divorce or dissolution application - for example, the date of your marriage. If you make a mistake, your application will be sent back to you.

You can order and pay for a copy of your marriage or civil partnership certificate on GOV.UK

If you got married or had a civil partnership abroad

You’ll still need to provide your marriage or civil partnership certificate. 

If you no longer have the certificate, you’ll need to contact the government of the country where the marriage or civil partnership happened to get a certified copy. You can find out how to contact foreign embassies in the UK on GOV.UK.

If the certificate isn’t in English, you’ll need to get it translated. You should ask the translator to include a ‘statement of truth’ - they’ll sign this to certify the translation is accurate. You can search online for translators.

If the translator doesn’t provide a statement of truth you’ll need to get the translation certified by a ‘notary public’. This is a qualified lawyer who can check legal documents are correct. You can find a local notary public on The Notaries Society website.

You’ll need to pay any costs to get a copy of your certificate, have it translated and certified.

Getting your partner’s details

You’ll need to give your partner's name, home address and email address. It’s best to give their personal email address - don’t use a business or employer address.

If your partner is using a solicitor, get the solicitor’s name and address if you can. 

If you don’t know where your partner lives, you can find out how to divorce or end a civil partnership with someone you can’t track down on GOV.UK.

If you’ve changed your name

If your name is different to your marriage or civil partnership certificate you’ll need to explain why on your application. 

If you changed your name by deed poll you might need to provide your deed poll document with your application.

3. Fill in the application

You can apply for a divorce or dissolution online or by post. 

When you fill in the application make sure you follow the instructions and complete it carefully. There’s some things you should pay particular attention to.

Important

If you’re worried about your partner knowing where you live

You can ask the court not to give your address to your partner. There’s a question about this on the application - make sure you tick where it says not to share your address. 

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

You can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

If you’re a man affected by domestic abuse you can call Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday).

If you're an LGBT+ person affected by domestic abuse you can call the Galop National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 999 5428 between 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and 10am to 8pm on Wednesday and Thursday.  

If you’re unsure about what to do next, talk to an adviser.

In the section where it asks if you’re applying for a ‘financial order, you should tick ‘yes’ - this is where the court decides what happens to you and your partner's money. 

If you have children you should also tick the box which asks if you’ll make a financial order for your children. You should tick ‘yes’ even if you don’t have any finances to sort out or you’ve already agreed things with your partner. You might need it later on to make any agreements legal or to refuse any future claims from your partner.

Ticking the financial order box won’t start an application for a financial order, but it means you can make an application in the future. If you tick ‘no’ and you remarry or form another civil partnership you usually won’t be able to apply for a financial order.

Applying online

It’s quicker to apply for your divorce or dissolution online. If you’re using a solicitor they’ll do this for you. 

You can:

Applying by post

If you can’t apply online, you can apply by post. You can find a paper divorce and dissolution form on GOV.UK

You should send your form to one of the addresses on the last page of the form - which one to use depends on how you’ll pay the court fee.

You should include your marriage certificate - this can be the original or a certified copy. 

4. Check how your partner will be told about the application

Usually the court will send a copy of the divorce or dissolution application to your partner - this is also known as ‘serving divorce or dissolution papers’. 

If the court is serving the papers they’ll email a link to your partner so they can view them online. They’ll also send a notification letter in the post to you and your partner. 

If you’ve applied for the divorce or dissolution by paper form or haven’t given an email address for your partner, the court will post the papers.

If you’ve made a joint application with your partner, you’ll both get an email saying the application has been received by the court and what will happen next.

Check if you need to serve any papers yourself

You’ll only need to serve papers to your partner if you’ve made a sole application and either:

  • your partner doesn’t live in the UK

  • you’ve asked to serve the papers yourself

  • the court has tried serving the papers 2 times and failed 

If the court can’t serve the papers the first time, you can give them a different email or address for your partner when they try again.

You need to make sure you serve the papers within 28 days of the divorce or dissolution application. If you’re not sure how to serve the papers, talk to an adviser.

5. Find out how your partner can respond

If you’ve made a sole application, your partner will need to tell the court they’ve received the divorce or dissolution application and whether they accept or disagree with it. If they disagree, they’ll need to ‘dispute’ the divorce or dissolution. 

Your partner will get instructions by email or post telling them how to respond. They must respond within 14 days.

Your partner can only dispute the divorce or dissolution for one of the following reasons: 

  • the marriage or civil partnership wasn’t valid in the beginning 

  • they think the marriage or civil partnership has already been ended through divorce or dissolution 

  • they don’t think the court is allowed to deal with the divorce or dissolution - this is called ‘not having jurisdiction’

If your partner doesn’t respond to the application

If your partner doesn't respond, what you can do depends on your situation.

If you know where your partner lives you can ask the court bailiff to serve the application for a fee - you can find the form for service by a court bailiff on GOV.UK

If you have evidence your partner has received the application, you can ask the court to continue as if your partner has received it. This is called ‘deemed service’ - you can find the form for deemed service on GOV.UK

If you can’t trace your partner you can ask the court to go ahead without a response from your partner if they can’t be traced - you can find out what to do if your partner is missing on GOV.UK  

If you’re not sure what to do, get legal advice first. You can check how to find free or affordable legal help.

6. Ask for a conditional order 

You can apply for a conditional order 20 weeks after you applied for your divorce or dissolution. This is where the court will decide if your divorce or dissolution can go ahead. 

You can’t do it sooner than 20 weeks - this is so that you and your partner have time to decide you definitely want to go ahead.

The court will let you know when you can apply for a conditional order by email or post  - this depends on how you first applied for your divorce or dissolution. 

Changing from a joint to a sole application

If you and your partner want to stop making a joint application, either of you can ask for it to be changed to a sole application when you apply for a  conditional order.

The person taking over the application will become the ‘applicant’ and the other person will become the ‘respondent’. 

If you’re the person changing the application from a joint to sole application, you’ll need to send a copy of the conditional order application to your partner. 

7. Ask for a final order 

You can ask for a final order 6 weeks and 1 day after a conditional order is made. This will permanently end your marriage or civil partnership.

The court will let you know when you can apply for a final order by email or post  - this depends on how you first applied for your divorce or dissolution. 

If you haven’t agreed about your finances, pensions and home 

The final order might change how your money and home are divided between you and your partner. 

If you’re the sole applicant, get legal advice before you apply for the final order. 

If you’re the respondent or a joint applicant, you should get legal advice as soon as you can. You won’t be able to stop your partner from applying for the final order, but you might be able to ask the court to delay it. You can check how to find free or affordable legal help

Applying for a final order

You should apply for a final order within a year after the court said you can. If you're applying after 12 months, you’ll need to explain to the court why there was a delay. For example, you might have been sorting out finances.

If you made a joint application, either you or your partner can apply for the final order. If you made a sole application, you'll usually need to apply for the final order as well. Your partner can only apply for a final order 3 months after the court said you could apply for one. 

You can also change from a joint to a sole application when you ask for a final order. You’ll need to use a form called D36A to do this and also give your partner 14 days’ notice that you’re going to apply for the final order on your own. You can find form D36A on GOV.UK.

Proving you’re divorced or your civil partnership has ended

If you need to prove you’re divorced or your civil partnership has ended, you should show your final order. 

If you’re divorced but the application was started before 6 April 2022, the final order will be called a ‘decree absolute’ instead.

If you’ve lost your original documents, you can get a copy of a decree absolute or final order on GOV.UK.

Page last reviewed on 13 August 2019