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This article contains an overview of the procedure of a divorce or ending of a civil partnership and applies to the law in England & Wales only, references to other jurisdictions can be found towards the end of the article.
In accordance with the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, a petition for divorce cannot be presented to the family courts before the end of one year from the date of the marriage. To end a marriage, a petition for divorce may be presented to the court by either party on the basis that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The court must be satisfied that it has broken down for one of the following five reasons:
Adultery: This can only be used if there has been sexual intercourse between the respondent and a person of the opposite sex.
Behaviour: The respondent has behaved in a way that the other party ‘cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent’.
Desertion: The respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least 2 years.
2 years separation: The parties have lived separate lives for two years and both parties consent to the divorce.
5 years separation: The parties have lived apart for a continuous period of 5 years, no consent required.
The divorce petition is intended to be straightforward to complete, with supplementary guidance notes on the form itself. This can be completed by the petitioner, or drafted by a solicitor (D8 form). Supporting documentation must be included such as a marriage certificate, and a fee of £550 is payable on filing the petition.
The next step is for the petitioner to apply for the decree nisi. A decree nisi is a document that confirms the court does not see any reason why the parties cannot divorce.
To obtain a decree nisi, an application must be completed (D84 form). Once the court is satisfied, the decree nisi is pronounced and a copy of the decree nisi is then sent to both parties.
The final step of the procedure is to obtain the decree absolute. This is the legal document that brings the marriage to an end.
Once six weeks has passed since the grant of the decree nisi, the decree absolute can be applied for. To apply for a decree absolute, fill in the notice of application for decree nisi to be made absolute form (Form D36). Both parties will receive a copy of the decree absolute confirming the marriage has ended.
Ending a civil partnership is a similar process to ending a marriage. A couple can apply to end (‘dissolve’) a civil partnership if they have been in the partnership for at least a year.
There are 4 reasons for ending a civil partnership: unreasonable behaviour, desertion, lived apart for more than 2 years and/or lived apart for more than 5 years.
The first step is to fill in and complete a dissolution petition (D8 form). A court fee of £550 will be required to file the application.
If the other party agrees to the dissolution, the next step is to apply for a conditional order (D84 form), outlining why the relationship has broken down irretrievably. The conditional order confirms the petitioner has established that the civil partnership has broken down.
The concluding stage is to apply for a final order, which is the legal document that confirms the end of the civil partnership (D36 form). The final order can be applied for 6 weeks after the date of the conditional order, or 3 months and 6 weeks if the respondent wishes to apply. Once the parties receive the final order, the civil partnership has legally ended.
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