Agreeing the contents of the petition
The Law Society says that a family lawyer acting for someone who wants a divorce should usually send a draft copy of the divorce petition to the other spouse at least seven days before it is filed at court. This gives the other spouse the opportunity to obtain legal advice and to raise an objection if there is anything in the petition that they find particularly offensive. It tends to be better to agree what is in the divorce petition if possible, as disputes about what goes in can have implications for the smooth progress of the rest of the divorce arrangements.
If your spouse has committed adultery it is technically possible to name the person with whom they committed adultery as a co-respondent in the divorce. However, we do not recommend that you do so unless you believe that your spouse is likely to defend the proceedings. In our experience, naming a third party in divorce papers raises the emotional temperature between you and may make it more difficult to agree arrangements in other areas, increasing your stress levels and legal costs as a result.
Filing the petition
The petition is filed at court with the court fee and your original (or an official copy) marriage certificate.
Serving the divorce papers
The court, or your family lawyer, sends the petition out to (‘serves’) the respondent together with a form for them to fill in called the acknowledgement of service. In this form the respondent has to say whether or not they intend to defend the divorce. The form has to be returned to the court. If the respondent has no intention to defend the divorce that is the end of their part in the process and all further steps are taken by the petitioner at their own pace.
Applying for the decree nisi
The next step is for the petitioner to complete a statement in support of the petition. This is another form that states that the contents of the divorce petition are true and asks for certain technical legal details such as whether you have lived in the same household since a certain relevant date. Your family lawyer will then file it at court with your application for a decree nisi. The decree nisi is the second-to-last phase of the divorce. It means the court has agreed that you are entitled to a divorce, but has not yet made it final. After the court has received your application for decree nisi, a judge will look at your papers to make sure they fulfil the legal criteria and if they do the court will issue a certificate telling you when the decree nisi will be pronounced.
Decree nisi is pronounced in open court. This means the judge reads out a list of names of people whose divorces have got to this stage, this week. Although anyone can go along if they want to, you do not have to attend court when this happens. At any time after decree nisi, the court is able to make a binding financial order setting out your arrangements for finances and property on divorce, either by consent or as a result of separate court proceedings. It will not do so unless you ask it to or your separate financial court proceedings have come to a conclusion.
Finalising the divorce suit
Six weeks and one day after the grant of decree nisi, the petitioner can apply for the decree absolute, which formally ends the marriage. Not everyone should apply for decree absolute as soon as it is available and you should make sure you have discussed whether you should do so with your family lawyer. It may not be sensible to apply immediately if, for example, financial arrangements are not yet settled. You should discuss your specific circumstances with your family lawyer as in some cases the grant of decree absolute will prevent certain types of financial claims being made. However, if the respondent is keen to end the marriage and the petitioner has not applied for the decree absolute, the respondent can ask the court for permission to do so after a certain period of time (about four-and-a-half months from decree nisi). The court will usually grant such an application unless there are particularly pressing reasons not to do so.