If you're separating from your partner, there's a lot to think about. Here you'll find information to help you understand what is involved at each stage.
Ending a marriage
You have three main options:
- separating informally (meaning you don't have to go to court)
- drawing up a separation agreement or
- ending your marriage formally through a divorce.
Occasionally you can get a judicial separation. This is a legal order stopping the partners of a marriage having to live together. It can be used by couples with a moral or religious objection to divorce. However, it doesn't end the marriage, so neither partner can remarry.
Ending a civil partnership
In a civil partnership you have broadly the same rights as heterosexual couples. However, there are a few differences, so it is worth looking at the CAB's information on ending a civil partnership and also visiting Directgov's page on civil partnerships.
How do I start the divorce process?
You need to get forms from the court or from the Ministry of Justice website. Court staff can tell you which forms you need, but aren't allowed to give legal advice or help you fill them in.
You can get general help from your nearest CAB. They can also help you to find a solicitor and other specialist advice.
How long will it take?
You can apply for a divorce if you've been married at least a year. It can take up to six months for a divorce to go through if you both agree to it and there are no issues with money or children.
If children are involved, it can take longer, especially if the court isn't satisfied with the arrangements for them.
What do I need to prove to get a divorce?
You need to show that the marriage effectively doesn't exist any more (an irretrievable breakdown). You will need to prove one or more of the following:
- unreasonable behaviour
- that your partner deserted you at least two years ago
- that you've lived apart for two years or more (if you both agree to the divorce) or
- that you've lived apart for at least five years (if one of you doesn’t agree to divorce).
What will the court do?
If you both agree to the divorce
You don't need a court hearing. The court will look at the petition and grant a decree nisi. Six weeks after this, the partner who applied for the divorce can apply for a decree absolute, confirming the divorce. This leaves you or your partner free to marry or enter into a civil partnership again.
If you have children, the court may want to discuss what will happen to them.
If one of you doesn't agree to the divorce
The partner who doesn't agree must fill in papers called an Answer, explaining why. In rare cases, there might be a court hearing for a judge to decide if the marriage has broken down. The same rules and timescales apply to the decree nisi and decree absolute.
If you have children, the same arrangements will apply as when you both agree to divorce. However, the decree absolute will only be given if the court has approved the arrangements the children.