When a relationship breaks down it can be an extremely emotional and stressful time, so the prospect of starting divorce proceedings can seem daunting. Our expert divorce solicitors can help.

We have put together a simplified overview of the divorce process to help you understand the different stages.

Applying for a divorce

  • Either party can make an application (petition) - the petitioner
  • The other party is called the respondent
  • In adultery petitions, other parties are known as co-respondents

In the event that there are children of the family, the petitioner will complete a Statement of Arrangements for Children to be agreed between the parties, if possible.

Grounds for Divorce.

You need to establish that the marriage has irretrievably broken down in one of five ways.

  • Adultery by the respondent
  • Unreasonable behaviour on the part of the respondent
  • Separation for 2 years (both parties consent)
  • Separation for 5 years (without consent)
  • Desertion by the respondent for 7 years

In practical terms, this means:


  • This is when your spouse has had voluntary sexual intercourse with someone outside of the marriage.
  • This can sometimes be difficult to prove, unless adultery is admitted, therefore it is usually better to base the proceedings on unreasonable behavior.
  • If you remain living with your partner for more than 6 months after you discovered the adultery, you cannot use adultery as the basis of your divorce.
  • You cannot start divorce proceedings based on your own adultery.

Unreasonable behavior

  • This is decided by a mixture of an objective and subjective test, designed to prove that your spouse has behaved in a way that means you can't reasonably be expected to live with him or her.
  • Obvious examples would be domestic violence but it can go as far as your spouse not paying you enough attention, or failing to support you in your hobbies/career etc.
  • The examples need to be strong enough for a Judge to agree they warrant a divorce.

Two years' separation with consent or five years separation

This means you must be able to establish one of two things:

  1. you have lived apart from your spouse for two years and they agree to the divorce
  2. you have lived apart from your spouse for over five years

Living separately doesn't just mean living in separate properties. You can have lived in the same house for this time period, as long as you can prove the normal relationship has ceased


  • It is unusual to rely on desertion as grounds for divorce, as it is relatively technical to prove.
  • You must demonstrate cohabitation has ceased and has been brought to an end by your spouse against your consent.
  • Your husband or wife must not have had any reasonable cause to have left and it must have been for a minimum of two years before you can start proceedings.

It can therefore sometimes be easier and more certain to proceed another way.

Acknowledgement of service

Acknowledgement by the respondent indicates

  • Whether there is an intention to defend
  • Whether they agree with arrangements for children
  • Whether they agree to pay costs

If the respondent disagrees an answer is required and the court will consider each issue separately and the matter becomes a contested court issue.

If the respondent agrees a statement is sent to the court by the petitioner swearing the accuracy of the petition. A district judge will consider entitlement to a decree - if accepted then a date is fixed for pronouncement of the Decree Nisi.

After 6 weeks and a day of the date of the Decree Nisi, the petitioner can apply for a Decree Absolute.

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