Guides & Advice

How to get a divorce | a step by step guide

Published: 22nd June 2020
Area: For the individual

How to get a divorce | a step by step guide

Going through a divorce or separation can be one of the most stressful periods in your life and if you're unsure of the what the divorce process is, or how it works in practice, then the whole thing can feel a little bit overwhelming.

Currently, divorce law is still governed by legalisation from 1973. This has recently been revisited by parliament and no-fault divorce will become law as of the 6th April 2022.

Here we break down the process of getting a divorce into seven easy steps, under the existing law. Steps one to four explain how to start divorce proceedings. The latter three steps explain the process of completing the divorce.

To file for divorce you will need to explain to a court the reasons for wanting to end the marriage.

The only acceptable reason for a divorce is that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, but this must be proven with one of the following five grounds for divorce (also known as divorce ‘facts’).

What are the grounds for divorce?

Each reason has a different process to follow, so it’s important to choose the most suitable ground for your situation before you begin.

1. Adultery

You can use this reason if you can prove your ex-partner has had sexual intercourse with someone else. As the law hasn't been reformed since the 1970s (and is badly out of date), unfortunately, this only applies to heterosexual relations, i.e. you wouldn't be able to use adultery as a reason for divorce if you are in a same-sex marriage.

In an adultery petition, your ex-partner will have to formally admit that they’ve committed adultery on a response form to the court. Therefore, if you can’t be 100% sure that they will admit to this, we wouldn’t suggest you go down this route – in such cases, an unreasonable behaviour petition can be issued instead (see below).

 2. Unreasonable behaviour

This is the most commonly used reason, as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ can include almost anything. You just need to show that your ex-partner has behaved in a way that means you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them and include examples of unreasonable behaviour throughout the marriage.

The unreasonable behaviour doesn’t have to be severe in order for a divorce to be granted. It can include serious or relatively mild allegations of behaviour, such as:

  • Refusal to engage in family life;
  • Lies and deceit;
  • Abusive behaviour, physically or mentally;
  • Spending excessive amounts of money with no good reason, causing financial strain;
  • A relationship with another person (not to be confused with adultery).

Unreasonable behaviour can be used where the relationship has involved domestic abuse. Although you have to provide specific examples of the pattern of behaviour, you don’t have to include dates. Unlike with adultery, your ex-partner doesn’t have to formally admit to unreasonable behaviour as a reason for divorce.

3. Desertion

This basis is rarely used, as it’s very difficult to prove. Gov.uk classes desertion as when your ex-partner has left you to end your relationship without your agreement, without good reason and for more than two years within the last two and a half years. It’s worth mentioning that if you do choose to go down this route, you can still claim desertion if you have lived together for up to a total of six months in this period, but seek legal advice first.

4. Lived physically apart for two years

If you and your ex-partner have lived separately for two years, this is suitable grounds for divorce. However, your ex-partner must consent to using this reason as the basis for divorce.

It is possible to use this reason if you’ve been separated but are still living together (possibly because of childcare or financial reasons). However, this is quite difficult to argue as you must prove you have been living separately, albeit under the same roof. We suggest using another reason for the basis of your divorce, such as unreasonable behaviour, if you have not been living physically apart.

5. Lived physically apart for five years

The second option for separation applies if you and your partner have been living apart for five years. Unlike the ‘two year separation’ reason, this doesn’t require the consent of your ex-partner.

Guiding you through the divorce process

The complicated part of the divorce process is not the dissolving of the marriage, but dealing with issues surrounding it such as those involving children or finances.

Our team of family lawyers can help support you and advise on the options available to complete your divorce process, whether this is making child arrangements and ensuring that the disruption and emotional stress is kept to a minimum, or securing the best financial settlement for you to secure your future.

The process of divorce is can be emotional and the actions you take in the early stages can set the tone for everything that follows. If you’re about to start divorce proceedings, or currently going through the separation process, then speak to one of our divorce lawyers. We’re here to guide you through the maze of emotions and legal responsibilities, every step of the way.

If you think you are ready to see how this process could work for you, you can make a first confidential enquiry by clicking on the button below.

More information

Find out more about our divorce services

Our expert lawyers are here to help support and advise you through the divorce process.

Child arrangement orders when divorcing or separating

In this guide we take a look at what approaches you can take when making child arrangements through divorce.

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