Stages of divorce: from application to final order

Reviewed by Julian Hawkhead, senior partner, Stowe Family Law

Angry couple with arms crossed looking at each other on a sofa

On 6 April 2022 the administrative process of getting a divorce completely changed, as the law moved to a ‘no-fault’ based system. It is now much simpler than the previous nine-stage process.

This article summarises these stages of divorce in simple terms. The same stages apply for dissolution of a civil partnership.

While you can still apply for a divorce by post, HM Courts & Tribunals Service offers an online service to make the process faster and easier.

Application and response

You cannot begin divorce proceedings until you have been married for at least a year.

The person seeking a divorce (the 'applicant') submits an application to the court (using a Form D8) declaring that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, and pays the £593 court fee.

Within 28 days the court sends a copy of the divorce application to your spouse (‘the respondent’) together with a ‘Notice of Proceedings’, and an ‘Acknowledgment of Service’ to complete and return to the court. This is all generally sent in an email and followed up by a letter.

The respondent has 14 days to return the Acknowledgment of Service. If the respondent declines to return it, a ‘process server’ can be instructed to serve the application to the respondent by hand and the process server then provides a statement confirming that the respondent has received the divorce papers.

Alternatively, you and your spouse can apply as joint applicants.

  • The person who initiates the joint application is called applicant 1 and their spouse is called applicant 2.
  • Applicant 1 pays the court fee and completes most of the application form.
  • Applicant 1 sends the application to the court, which then sends it to applicant 2 to check and to add further information on the online court portal.
  • The completed application is then sent to applicant 1 to approve before it is issued by the court.
  • The court sends both applicants an Acknowledgment of Service to file.
  • The applicants apply together for the conditional order and the final order (see below).
  • You can switch from a joint application to a sole application at any time, for example if you feel that your spouse is unreasonably delaying progress.

(In the rare situation of a divorce being disputed - on the grounds that the marriage was not valid in the first place, or the UK court lacks jurisdiction to rule on the case - a respondent must file this answer with the court within 35 days of receiving the divorce application.)

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Cooling off period

There is a 20-week cooling off period after the court has issued the application, before you can apply for a conditional order- which is the first stage of the divorce.

During this period you can work to resolve any financial arrangements, although any agreements made are not legally binding at this stage.

Conditional order

You (or you and your spouse jointly) apply for a conditional order. Once the court has checked that all the paperwork is in order, it will provide a date for the conditional order to be made.

The conditional order means that the court accepts that you will be able to divorce.

Final order

Six weeks and a day after the court makes the conditional order, you can apply to the court for a final order (either as a sole applicant or as joint applicants with your spouse).

This legally ends your marriage.

Note that these stages of divorce only cover the divorce itself - ie the ending of the marriage. You may also want the court to deal with financial issues and with arrangements for the children.

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