How do you start divorce proceedings?

29 June 2023
If you want to end your marriage, you must apply for a divorce. For same-sex partnerships, the term is called dissolution however, the process is the same for both. You are able to get a divorce or dissolution after you’ve been married for at least 1 year. Only 1 application needs to be made between you and your partner. This can be done by both of you, known as a “joint application” or by a single party, known as a “sole application.”
Image divorce proceedings

Before you apply for a divorce

Before applying for a divorce, you and your partner should try to agree on the following:

  • How to divide any money you share
  • What will happen to your home
  • Where any children you share with your partner will reside

Although, you can still apply for a divorce or dissolution despite not having agreed on the above as the time the divorce takes to proceed through the courts (around 8 months) can be used to address these issues.

How to apply for a divorce

To apply for a divorce you’ll need:

  • yours and your husband or wife’s full name and address
  • your original marriage certificate or a certified copy
  • proof of your name change if you’ve changed it since you got married - for example, a deed poll

You will be asked for your husband or wife’s current address. This is so the court can send them a copy of the divorce application.

If you give your husband or wife’s email address, the court will send the divorce papers to them online. If you do not give an email address the papers will be sent by post.


A divorce or dissolution will take at least 8 months to complete, even if the circumstances are straightforward.


A court fee of £593 will need to be paid when applying for a divorce. This can be shared with your partner. If you’re struggling to pay the court fee, you may be eligible for help with fees by completing the requisite Help with Fees form online.

Steps for divorce proceedings

  1. Decide who will apply

You can either apply for a divorce on your own or with your spouse. If you apply for a divorce on your own, it is called a sole application. If you apply for a divorce with your spouse, it is called a joint application. You should only do a joint application if you are sure that you will be able to agree with your spouse throughout the whole divorce 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 submit a sole application, you will be called the applicant and your spouse will be called the respondent.
  1. Gather all relevant information and documents you’ll need

You will need to gather the following information and documents to apply for a divorce:

Your marriage certificate
  1. Fill in an application

Once you have gathered all of the required information and documents, you can fill in an application for a divorce. You can find the application form on the government website under file for divorce.
  1. Check how your partner will be informed of the application

You will need to tell your spouse that you are applying for a divorce. You can do this by serving them with the application papers. You can serve the papers to your spouse by post, in person or by email. The court can also be asked to serve your spouse which is the most common way of effecting service.
  1. Find out how your partner can respond to proceedings

Your spouse has 28 days to respond to your application for a divorce. If your spouse chooses not to respond to the papers then to progress matters you will first need to prove to the court that the papers have been received and sufficient time has been given for them to respond. You may need to instruct a Court Bailiff to serve the papers directly on your spouse which can be done via an online application for a further court fee. Alternatively, you can arrange for personal service by a Process Server, which again will attract a fee for their services. There is also the option to seek Deemed Service if your spouse has told you they received the papers (such as by a text message) but have also said they will not respond to them. Finally, if you cannot serve by any of the above methods you can ask the court to dispense with service altogether.
  1. Ask for a conditional order

Once your spouse has been served with the application papers, you can ask the court for a conditional order. A conditional order is an interim order that allows the divorce to proceed. The conditional order will be granted if the court is satisfied that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.
  1. Ask for the final order - completing the divorce or dissolution

Once the conditional order has been granted, 6 weeks later you can ask the court for a final order. The final order will end your marriage. The final order will be granted if the court is satisfied that you and your spouse have met all of the requirements for a divorce.
It is important to note that the divorce process can be complex and time-consuming. If you are unsure about any aspect of the process, you should seek legal advice.

Is legal representation still needed for divorce in 2023?

It’s very rare for someone to actively want to be involved in legal proceedings, but unfortunately, they’re a part of life and are sometimes necessary. For example, if you wish to get divorced, there may be a legal dispute, as a marriage is legally binding and you may not be in agreement.

Nowadays, it is common to see people who are involved in legal disputes like divorce choose to deal with the matters themselves, (especially with the reform introduced in 2022 for no-fault divorce) without legal representation or advice, and attend their own court hearings.

These are known as Litigants in Person (‘LIP’).

Whilst nothing is stopping anyone from tackling their own divorce process, John Fowlers would encourage you to seek legal advice from a solicitor or legal executive. 
The government has recognised the rise in LIPs and is doing its utmost to provide advice and assistance – but still, the law in the UK is complex so if it isn’t properly understood, people can run into unexpected problems in the future.

What is John Fowlers’ role in divorce cases?

We always encourage couples to plan their separation constructively through mediation at first. This is where we help you find a workable solution that suits both parties. The mediator won’t take sides or tell you what to do, they are neutral and there to facilitate conversation so that it keeps moving forward until terms are agreed upon.

Through mediation services, we:

  • Prepare documents for court
  • Advise on financial matters including the family home, pensions, savings and investments
  • Advise you on what you are and are not entitled to and help you negotiate
  • Advise disputing parents on childcare, contact and maintenance payments
  • As well as being able to resolve the practical elements of your divorce, we understand that the process can be an exhausting and uncertain time. Our experienced team deals with divorce cases every day, so will be able to offer emotional support to you as well as the best possible legal advice.

If an agreement cannot be reached through mediation then John Fowlers can also assist with ensuring proper financial disclosure is obtained and assist in negotiations towards a settlement. If this is unsuccessful then the only solution is to go to court.

We’re experienced in this and prepared to fight your corner.

  • Instigate court proceedings and represent you
  • Prepare cases for presentation to the judge
  • Communicate with your spouse via their solicitor if a conversation is not possible between you

If you’d like to find out more, you can contact our divorce experts through our divorce and separation contact page where you can fill in an enquiry form and set up an initial phone consultation with one of our experts.