Unless specified, this information relates only to England and Wales. If you live in Scotland, go to Parenting across Scotland for information and advice. If you live in Northern Ireland, go to NI direct.

Only a court can end your marriage or civil partnership, but this does not mean that you have to actually go to court for court hearings.

If you are divorcing or ending a civil partnership, you will have to apply to court for permission (by applying for a decree nisi or conditional order), and apply to have your divorce or civil partnership finalised (by applying for a decree nisi or final order).

Arrangements about children and finances can also be agreed without going through court.

Court should be a last resort in family cases unless there are issues around urgency and safety, for example, in relation to child abuse or domestic abuse. There are alternative forms of dispute resolution that can be used before or as an alternative to going to court.

Before you can apply to the family court about a disagreement about child or financial arrangements, you are legally required to consider mediation first by going to a ‘Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting’ (MIAM). Family mediators are independent, professionals trained to help people who are arguing to work out agreements.

If- after going to a MIAM, you decide to apply to the court, you will have to show the court a form which has been signed by a mediator to prove that you have considered mediation, and that it isn’t right for you.

In some special circumstances you will be exempt from having to go to a MIAM and can go straight to court, for example if domestic violence or child abuse is involved.

From the 22nd April 2014, if you are considering going to court over a dispute about children or finances, you must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting to see if mediation could help (unless there are special circumstances). Find out more about mediation.

The type of forms and documents you will need to make an application will depend on what your application is for.

Visit gov.uk for information on getting a divorce or ending a civil partnership.

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