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Getting a divorce/Dissolution of Civil Partnership

A couple may not apply for divorce/dissolution of Civil Partnership within the first two years of marriage/civil partnership in Northern Ireland - unlike England and Wales where it is one year and in Scotland where there is no time limit.

Divorce/Civil Partnership cases

Divorce/Dissolution of Civil Partnership cases are dealt in the County Court or the High Court

Guidance is available for Personal Petitioners on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals website or by telephoning the Matrimonial Office on 028 9072 4782

Petitioners may wish to seek legal advice from a Solicitor or contact Citizens Advice Bureau.

Grounds for divorce

A Divorce Petition must be grounded on one of the following reasons:

  • two years separation with the consent of the other spouse to divorce
  • five years separation
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • adultery
  • desertion

A Dissolution of Civil Partnership must be grounded on one of the following reasons:

  • two years separation with the consent of the other partner to dissolve the partnership
  • five years separation
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • desertion

When the case is ready, it will be heard before a judge. If they are satisfied that the marriage has broken down irretrievably a Decree Nisi/Conditional Order will be granted.

After a minimum of six weeks and one day an application can be made to make the Decree Absolute, or the Conditional Order, Final. Only when the Decree Absolute is granted or the Conditional Order is made Final, is the marriage/civil partnership dissolved.

The Court also has powers to make orders on financial, maintenance and property relating to the civil partnership/marriage.

Starting the process

If you are not using a solicitor, and the divorce/dissolution is consented to, you can access guidance and forms on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service website or contact the Matrimonial Office for guidance on bringing a petition for divorce/civil partnership/separation as a “personal petitioner.”

If the divorce/dissolution will not be consented to, or if after the issue of the petition the case becomes defended, you should contact a Solicitor.

Stages of divorce

Once you lodge your petition and pay the fee, you have started the divorce/dissolution of civil partnership process. From now on you are known as the Petitioner. The other party is known as the Respondent.

You will need to lodge additional documents with the Petition in the Matrimonial Office .

These are:-

  • marriage/civil partnership certificate
  • an acknowledgement of service form
  • birth certificate(s) for any children under 18
  • agreements you wish to be made a rule of court
  • previous court orders relating to your marriage, civil partnership

Serving the petition

After your papers have been processed, the court will send a certified copy to you so you can post a copy of the Petition to the Respondent. This is known as serving the petition. Once the petition has been served, what happens next depends upon whether or not the Respondent defends the Petition.

Decree Nisi/Conditional Order

When all documentation is in order the case will be listed before the relevant Court and you will be notified of the date to attend at the court venue you have indicated in the petition.

The Court Hearing

What happens at the hearing depends on whether or not the Respondent consents to the divorce. If the Respondent does not defend the petition and consents to the petition going ahead, you will be asked to either take a religious oath or make an affirmation (promise) and verify the information contained within your petition.

If the court is satisfied with the evidence before it and with any arrangements made for the children of the marriage, it may grant a Decree Nisi/Conditional Order.

If the Respondent does not consent and decides to defend the petition, you may then be asked to give evidence and be cross-examined by the Respondent’s legal representative. You should take legal advice if this arises.

Decree Absolute/Conditional Order made Final

After at least six weeks and one day after a Decree Nisi/Conditional Order has been granted, you can apply for a Decree Absolute/Conditional to be made Final at the court where your divorce was heard.

If you don't apply for the Decree Absolute/Conditional Order to be made Final, then the Respondent can apply for it but only after a further three months have passed. They have to let you know they intend to do this and they have been granted leave of the court to do so.

When you receive the Decree Absolute/Conditional Order made Final, you are free to re-marry/form a new Civil Partnership.

The contact information for the Matrimonial Office at the Royal Courts of Justice is:

The Matrimonial Office
Royal Courts of Justice
PO Box 410
Chichester Street

Phone: 028 9072 4782
Fax: 028 9032 2782

For queries after you have received a court date, please contact the relevant court office where your case is listed.

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