Divorce and separation - the legal process

The legal processes and rights in divorce or separation (ending a non-married relationship) or ending a civil partnership are quite different. We explain the basic process for each

Separation rights: ending a non-married relationship

There is no legal process to the ending of a relationship in which you were not married. However, you may still use the courts to help you make arrangements if you are unable to reach agreement by any other method. You can ask the courts to deal with:

  • care and contact for your child
  • the division of any joint assets

Ending your marriage

To end your marriage you must ask a court to grant you a divorce on the grounds that:

  • you or your wife has committed adultery and that you find it intolerable to live with her
  • your wife’s behaviour has been so bad that you can no longer bear to live with her
  • your wife deserted you at least two years ago
  • you and your wife have lived apart for at least two years and she agrees to a divorce
  • you and your wife have lived apart for at least five years

Fathers and children: the law   

The process for divorce is as follows:

1. Petition

The divorce is initiated by you or your wife lodging a petition with the court. This person is known as the petitioner. The petition is a document that sets out details of the marriage and the grounds for divorce.

Because you have dependent children, you will also need to complete a document called a Statement of Arrangements. This sets out the details such as where the children will live and arrangements for contact.

 2. Acknowledgment of service

The petition is sent to the court. The court stamps the petition and a copy is sent to the other spouse. They are called the Respondent. They complete a form acknowledging receipt called an acknowledgment of service which states whether the divorce will be contested.

If the Respondent chooses not to contest the divorce, the Petitioner can apply for the first decree, the Decree Nisi, by completing a statement in support of petition, Most divorces are not contested.

 3. Decree nisi

If a district judge is satisfied that everything is in order, they will order that the matter can be listed for the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi.

4. Decree absolute

Six weeks and one day after the Decree Nisi is granted the Petitioner can apply for the decree to be made absolute. This ends the marriage.

Divorce: your action plan

Ending a civil partnership

In order to legally end a civil partnership you must ask the court to grant:

  • a dissolution order - your civil partnership must have lasted for at least one year
  • a separation order - your civil partnership does not need to have lasted for a year
  • an annulment – where there are questions around the legality of the partnership

If you have children, you will need to agree contact arrangements. You may also ask the law to rule on issues around your finances and housing. 

Your housing


About the author

Clare Kirby qualified as a lawyer in 1983 and worked for several years in industry. She founded Kirby & Co in 1997. As a member of Resolution and an advanced member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel she is experienced and respected in the field of family law. Trained as a collaborative lawyer, Clare offers clients a range of options - traditional, and collaborative law - to best meet the needs of the individual clients.

Hide comments (3)


  • Guest
    Robin Gordon Thursday, 30 June 2016

    Child support

    My wifes behaviour has seen us come to an empass & solicitors are being called to get the divorce proceeding started, unfortunately my work is closing & moving away from family state & I have no option but to follow. this makes travelling virtually impossible! My wife wants me to take the children on a regular basis but doesn't see work wont let me! It may encroach onto her busy Ju-Jitsu & Partying circles.
    Is there anyway I can say no to childcare unless I am settled & sorted or will this be held against me in the divorce settlement???
    I will not make it hard for kids to find me & come over but I don't want to end up back babysitting 2 young men while mammy parties to the wee small hours as usual!!!

  • DAD.info Team 1
    DAD.info Team 1 Monday, 04 July 2016

    Hi Robin

    We are sorry to hear that you are having a difficult time at the moment - we can suggest a couple of things for you - our forum page is great for posting questions on. We have a great community of Dads and experienced moderators who can offer advice and encouragement.

    You could also try the Children's Legal Centre - they can help in situations like this.

    The links to both are below:



    Please let us know if there is anything else we can do to help.

    All the best

    DAD.Info Team

  • Guest
    Martin Ford Sunday, 28 August 2016

    Access denied

    Hi everyone
    My name is Martin and last month I left my wife and daughter in Norfolk to be with a new partner in Devon. My wife has made it very difficult to see my daughter saying it's not possible to see her, even though I had paid for travel to go and visit. It seems that my daughter is being used as a weapon by my wife. The only contact wife allows is via Skype text etc. I agree that it is more than some wives allow. My daughter and I are VERY close. My wife says she never wants daughter to meet new partner and that daughter cannot come and visit.
    I felt it was better for my girl to stay in Norfolk as her school is there, her friends and most of her family are there too. She is 11. I recently posted new r/ship status on Facebook. Wife and her family exploited it, and my daughter was upset as she wants my wife and I to be together.
    I messed up there but it seems anything my wife can use to hurt me, then she will as she is hurting too. She doesn't seem to think that I am missing my daughter too.
    All I want is to see my child. It's been 5 weeks.
    What do I do?

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Guest Sunday, 17 January 2021

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