Getting a divorce/Dissolution of Civil Partnership

When a marriage or civil partnership breaks down the parties may wish to legally dissolve the bond by petitioning for a divorce or a 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.

Divorce/Civil Partnership cases

Divorce/dissolution of civil partnership cases are dealt in the County Court or the High Court.

The party who makes the application is called the petitioner. Parties to the proceedings can represent themselves or they can ask a solicitor to act on their behalf. People wanting to represent themselves still may wish to seek legal advice from a solicitor or contact Citizens Advice Bureau.

Grounds for divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership

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 when it comes 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 Tribunals 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 the party that lodges the application will be 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 about your marriage/civil partnership

There is a fee of £220 to lodge a petition in court. 

Serving the petition

After the 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 the respondent defends the petition.

Decree Nisi/Conditional Order

When all documents are in order the case will be listed before the court and the parties will be notified of the date of listing. The court venue will be the same as that which was petitioned for, except if the case is being defended in which case the matter will be heard in the High Court. A fee of £275 is payable to get a court date in the County Court and £330 to get a date in the High Court.

The Court Hearing

What happens at the hearing depends on whether 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

The party who was granted the Decree Nisi/Conditional Order can apply for a Decree Absolute/Conditional to be made final after at least six weeks and one day have passed since the divorce was heard. It costs £83 and the application should be made to the court where the case was heard.

The party who did not receive the Decree Nisi/Conditional Order can apply for the Decree Absolute/Conditional Order to be made final after a further three months have passed. Where this is the case, they would have to seek leave of the court to do so.

When the Decree Absolute/Conditional Order made final is granted, a copy will be forwarded to both parties.  Both parties are free to remarry/form a new civil partnership. It is important that the Decree Absolute / Conditional Order made final is kept safe as you will need it in future to produce to various authorities to prove your divorce was finalised. For example you will require your Decree Absolute / Conditional Order made final when:

  • applying for a passport
  • getting re-married or entering a new civil partnership
  • applying for your pension or certain state benefits
  • applying for student grants for yourself or your children
  • applying for a grant of probate or Letters of Administration in certain circumstances

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

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

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