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Should I make a sole or joint no fault divorce application?

It has been possible to apply for a ‘no fault divorce’ since 6 April 2022.

The new law introduced a number of changes. A primary aim was the removal of blame from the process to allow focus on resolution of important financial matters and arrangements for children.

Another significant change was the ability for spouses to apply jointly for divorce. Previously only one spouse could apply. Under the new law, an application for divorce can be either sole or joint.

In a sole application, only one party is responsible for making the application and progressing it. This is the applicant. The other party is the respondent.

In a joint application, both spouses apply together and are jointly responsible for progressing. They are known as applicant 1 and applicant 2.

But which option is best for you?

Either option will achieve the final outcome of divorce. The difference is the process to get there and, importantly, the level of collaboration that you will need to have with your spouse (this may be through lawyers) during the process.  It could also impact eligibility for help with paying the court fee.

The process

In a joint application, the contents of the application and its progression will need to be agreed between you. It will be necessary for there to be cooperation between you (or your lawyers) for this purpose. If this is possible, a joint application could limit resentment between you.

In a sole application, the applicant prepares the application and lodges it at the court along with the marriage certificate. It is not compulsory, but best practice to send a draft of the application to the respondent before it is lodged at the court. The court will issue the papers and then the respondent will be served and must complete an acknowledgement of service. It is possible for a respondent to dispute a divorce but only on very limited grounds including if they say the marriage was not valid or the courts in England and Wales do not have jurisdiction.

In a joint application, applicant 1 is responsible for preparing the application. Applicant 2 is then required to review and approve it. Once the application has been made, the court will send a notice of the proceedings to both parties. Each applicant must then confirm receipt to the court within 14 days.

Twenty weeks after the application is made, it is possible to apply for conditional order. This is the first order in the divorce but the divorce will not be finalised at this stage. In a sole application, the applicant applies for conditional order. In a joint application, both applicants apply.

Six weeks and one day from the date of the conditional order, the final order can be applied for, to finalise the divorce. In a sole application, the applicant applies. If the applicant fails to apply for the final order, the respondent can apply for final order themselves after a further three months. In a joint application both applicants apply. In either case it is usually advisable not to apply for final order in the divorce until financial matters have been resolved.

Court fee

If you expect to be eligible for “Help with Fees”, i.e. where you are entitled to an exemption for paying the court fee (currently £593) or a reduction in the amount payable, both applicants will need to be eligible for the exemption in a joint application. Eligibility is based on financial resources. If the applicant(s) income and resources fall below a certain threshold, the exemption will apply. If only one of you is eligible, the exemption will only apply if that person is a sole applicant, not if the application is made jointly.

On a joint application, if the exemption does not apply, applicant 1 pays the court fee when making the application. In a sole application, the applicant pays the court fee. In either case, communication between you (or your lawyers) will be required if it is to be agreed that you will each contribute.

Each party is responsible paying their own solicitors’ fees unless there are exceptional circumstances justifying a costs order.

Allegations and power imbalance

If there are allegations of abuse or a significant power imbalance, a joint application is unlikely to be appropriate.

Changing a joint application to a sole application

A joint application can be changed to a sole application from the conditional or final order stage if needed. This might happen if one party changes their mind about divorcing or delays the process.

However, to change from a joint to a sole application at final order stage, the other party must be formally notified 14 days in advance.

A sole application can never be changed to a joint application.

Joint or sole?

Whether a sole or joint application is most appropriate for you will depend on a range of factors including your ability to communicate amicably (this may be through lawyers), what will allow you to move forwards more constructively, and whether court fee exemption is a consideration for either of you.

Speak to a member of the team

Are you navigating a relationship breakdown? Whether you’re considering a joint or solo no-fault divorce application, our experienced divorce and family law solicitors are here to guide you. Ready to take the next step? Contact us online. We’ll get in touch promptly to discuss your situation and provide tailored legal solutions.


Your key contact

Emily Finn


Emily is a Solicitor in our Divorce and Family Law team, dealing with divorce and associated financial matters, nuptial and cohabitation agreements, private children matters including child relocation, and domestic violence injunctions.
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