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The process for matrimonial proceedings

Commencing Proceedings

Divorce proceedings commence when a party to a marriage/civil partnership or their legal representatives lodge completed forms (signed and dated) with the Matrimonial Office along with the appropriate fee. This lodging party will become “the Petitioner”. The other will become the Respondent. The forms can be completed either personally or through the engagement of a suitably qualified practitioner of law in the jurisdiction.

When lodging the Petition you must include a certified copy of the “long form” certificate for the marriage/civil partnership and the “long form” birth certificate(s) for any children of the parties who are under 18 years of age.
Note. For marriages/civil partnerships formed outside the UK you must get evidence of an expert in the local law of the country in which the marriage/civil partnership took place to prove that the certificate of marriage/civil partnership certificate is likely to be accepted as evidence proving that a valid marriage/civil partnership had taken place.


Before you commence proceedings the Petitioning party must identify that a Court in Northern Ireland is able to hear the case. If one or more of the following statements are relevant to the circumstances of the parties then a Court in Northern Ireland can deal with the case.

Please refer to the Notes for Guidance. 

Domiciled is a legal term. There is no precise or agreed definition, however broadly speaking, you are domiciled in the country in which you have made your permanent home.

The forms

The standard forms you need to lodge for a divorce/dissolution of civil partnership are as follows:

  • Petition (Form M1)
  • Statement of arrangement for children (Form M4) if applicable;
  • Notice of proceedings (Form M5 or form M5A for Civil partnership); and
  • Acknowledgement of Service (Form M6 or form M6A for Civil partnership).

The petition form must be typed before lodging in the Matrimonial Office.

The forms are provided here on our website for customers to download and complete.

If you wish to bring proceeding yourself, you can arrange an appointment with the office where our staff will provide information to help you to comply with the Rules relating to the law which governs these proceedings, you can find out more about acting by yourself here.  Guidance is available here to assist practitioners completing the forms. It is important that forms are completed accurately. Additional fees will be payable in order to make amendments to papers once they have been lodged with the Matrimonial Office.

Grounds for divorce / dissolution of 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

Service and acknowledgement of proceedings.

After the papers have been lodged and processed, the court will send a certified copy of the papers back to the petitioning party for them to forward to the Respondent. This is known as serving the petition. This can be done by ordinary first class post, recorded delivery or by employing the services of a process server*. Once the petition has been served, the Respondent party must complete the acknowledgement of service and return it to the matrimonial office. What happens next depends upon whether or not the Respondent chooses to defend the Petition. If the respondent or co-respondent does not complete the Acknowledgement of Service, service of Petition may be dealt with by other means, for example Masters Order. The Matrimonial Office will assist you with this procedure if required.

* Details of process servers can be obtained from the Matrimonial Office.


When all documentation is in order the office will invite the parties to set the case down for hearing. On receipt of the certificate of readiness form and the prescribed fee the case will be listed before the relevant Court and both parties will be notified of the hearing date.

The Court Hearing

What happens at the hearing depends on whether or not the Respondent consents to the proceedings. If the Respondent consents, only the Petitioner need attend the hearing, otherwise both parties will be required to attend court. If the court is satisfied with the evidence before it and with any arrangements made for the children of the marriage etc, it may grant a Decree Nisi/Conditional Order.

Decree Absolute/Conditional Order made Final

After at least six weeks and one day after a Decree Nisi/Conditional Order has been granted, the party who was awarded the Decree Nisi/Conditional Order can apply for a Decree Absolute/Conditional Order to be made Final.

Only when the parties receive the Decree Absolute/Conditional Order made Final, are they free to re-marry/form a new Civil Partnership.

It is important that you keep the Decree Absolute / Conditional Order made Final 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.