Getting a divorce or dissolving a civil partnership

When a marriage or civil partnership breaks down, both people might want to legally dissolve the bond. A married person petitions for a divorce. A civil partner applies for a dissolution. You can't apply for divorce or dissolution during the first two years of your marriage or civil partnership.

Divorce and civil partnership cases

The County Court and the High Court deal with divorces and dissolutions of civil partnerships.

The spouse or civil partner who makes the application is the 'petitioner'. They can act on their own behalf or ask a solicitor for advice. People representing themselves can get advice from a solicitor or Advice NI.

Grounds for divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership

A divorce petition must be grounded on one of the reasons below:

  • 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 due to one of the reasons below:

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

Starting a divorce or dissolution process

If you don't use a solicitor and there is consent to divorce or dissolution, you can get information from the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service. You can ask the Matrimonial Office for guidance on bringing a petition for divorce/civil partnership/separation as a “personal petitioner".

You should contact a solicitor if:

  • the other spouse or civil partner doesn't consent to divorce or dissolution
  • they defend the case after the petition was issued
  • Solicitors' directory 

Lodging a petition in the Matrimonial Office

The divorce or dissolution process starts when you lodge the petition and pay the fee. You're the petitioner. The other spouse or civil partner is the respondent.

You need to lodge documents with the petition in the Matrimonial Office including:

  • marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • an acknowledgement of service form
  • birth certificate for a child under 18
  • agreements you wish to be made a rule of court
  • previous court orders about your marriage or civil partnership

Court fee for lodging a petition

You must pay £237 to lodge a petition in court.

Serving the petition

After the papers have been processed, the court will send you a certified copy of the petition. You can post a copy to the respondent. This is 'serving the petition'. 

Case listed before court

When all documents are received, the case will be listed before the court. The court will tell you and your spouse or civil partner the date of court listing. The case will be listed for the same court where the petitioner applied. But the case will be heard in the High Court if the respondent defends the petition.

Fees for a court hearing

The fees for a court date are:

  • £296 in the County Court
  • £355  in the High Court

Respondent consents to petition

If the respondent consents to the petition, you will be asked to take a religious oath or make an affirmation (promise) and verify the information contained within your petition.

Respondent defends the petition

If the respondent defends the petition, you might need to give evidence and be cross-examined by the respondent’s legal representative. You should get legal advice if this happens.

Granting a decree nisi or conditional order

A judge will hear the case. If they are satisfied with evidence the marriage has broken down irretrievably, they will grant a decree nisi. For a civil partnership, they will grant a conditional order.

Applying for a decree absolute 

At least six weeks and one day after the decree nisi or conditional order is granted, the petitioner can apply to make the decree absolute or the conditional order final.  They need to apply to the court where the divorce or dissolution case was heard. 

The marriage or civil partnership formally ends when:

  • the decree absolute is granted
  • the conditional order is made final

The court can make orders about finance, maintenance and property.

Three months after the initial six weeks and a day, the respondent can apply for a decree absolute or conditional order to be made final. But they can only do this with the court's permission.

Court fee for decree absolute 

The fee is £89 for a decree absolute or conditional order made final. You should apply to the court where the case was heard.

Decree absolute or conditional order is granted

When the decree absolute or conditional order made final is granted, you and your former spouse or civil partner will receive a copy. This is an important document that you'll need to keep. It proves you are divorced. You'll need the document to:

  • apply for a passport
  • marry or form a new civil partnership
  • apply for your pension or certain state benefits
  • apply for a student grant
  • apply for a grant of probate or Letters of Administration

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