How to start divorce proceedings

Article reference: UK-IA-FAM10
| 4 min read

The first step to start divorce proceedings is to complete the form to apply for a divorce known as your petition. You can obtain divorce forms free from the HM Courts & Tribunals service online or from Net Lawman here (we include examples as to how to fill out the forms).

You need to send 2 copies of your completed petition, 2 copies of the completed statement of arrangements for the children (if you have any), your marriage certificate, and a cheque for the court fee to the divorce county court of your choice.

If you are on a low income, you may be exempt from paying a fee. The county court will have an application form for this.

If you are divorcing for reasons of adultery and want the person your husband or wife has had sex with to be a party to the proceedings, you need to send 4 copies of the documents.

If you don't have your marriage certificate, you can order a copy on-line at

You will be known as the Petitioner, your partner will be known as the Respondent and, in adultery proceedings where the person is named, this person will be known as the Co-Respondent.

The court will enter the case in their list and give it a number - prefaced by 'D'. They will inform you of this number. You must use this in all future documentation and when writing to the court.

What happens next?

A copy of the petition and the statement of arrangements (if you have children) will be sent to the Respondent (and Co-Respondent where there is one) together with an acknowledgement of service form. This form gives them the opportunity to say whether they agree with the divorce and statement of arrangements or not. Once returned to the court you will receive a copy of it.

If the acknowledgement of service is not returned, you can apply to have the court bailiff serve the documents personally.

If the acknowledgement of service is returned but the Respondent doesn't agree with the divorce, the case becomes, potentially, defended, and you may need some advice either from a solicitor.

If the respondent agrees with the divorce

Your next step is to apply to have the case entered in the special procedure list.

You will need to complete an application form and swear or affirm an affidavit in support of your petition. This is like swearing an oath in court, but in writing. You will need to swear or affirm either in front of a solicitor or a commissioner for oaths or at the county court office. A solicitor or commissioner for oaths will charge you for this service.

You can read more about the timetable for undefended divorce.

In the vast majority of cases where all parities agree, appearing in front of a judge will not be necessary.

If the district judge is satisfied that the fact in the petition has been proved and satisfied with the arrangements for the children, a date will be fixed for the decree nisi.

Unless notified to the contrary, you are not expected to attend. If you do need to do so, it is extremely unlikely that it will be public. Most family proceedings are held in private, so you do not need to worry about your private life becoming public knowledge.

The decree nisi shows that the court is satisfied that you have proved marital breakdown on the basis of your petition. It does not dissolve the marriage and having a decree nisi doesn't mean you can re-marry. To end the marriage, you will need to apply for a decree absolute. You may do so 6 weeks after the date of the decree nisi. If you don't, the Respondent can apply 3 months after decree nisi.

Try to reach an agreement with your ex-husband or wife about who pays the costs. As the Petitioner, you can ask that the Respondent pay your legal costs. If there is a dispute about who pays how much of the costs, you may have to attend court.

Make sure you keep a copy of all the documents you send to the court. This could be extremely useful if there are any queries.

Further information and relevant documents

When you separate, and even when you become divorced, your will does not become void. The implication is that your ex is likely to inherit your money and possession. As soon as you separate, you should create a new will. You can read more about how marriage and divorce affect your will.

Net Lawman provides a range of templates for free that will help you to create your own will.

If you are separating before filing for divorce, you may want to have a separation agreement in place between you and your ex-partner. It should form the basis for your consent order.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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