Matrimonial Proceedings

Here you will find information on the process for matrimonial proceedings, personal petitioner information and practitioner guidance on matrimonial issues.

In Northern Ireland a divorce or dissolution of civil partnership may only be presented to the court after the parties have been married / in a civil partnership for a period of two years.

The law concerning divorce or dissolution of civil partnership procedures and the forms are different in Northern Ireland to other parts of the United Kingdom. This area of our website provides background information and lists the relevant forms that you need to apply for a divorce / dissolution of civil partnership. The forms and procedures must meet the requirements of The Matrimonial Causes Order (Northern Ireland) 1978, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the Family Proceedings Rules (Northern Ireland) 1996 (and Brussels IIA Regulation for cases involving a party in an EU Member State ongoing at 31 December 2020).


We will provide information and help you to comply with the Rules relating to the law which governs these proceedings. Our staff are not legally qualified and therefore are not in a position to give legal advice.

General overview

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.

Personal Petitioner Information

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.

 If after reading this guide you wish to proceed with your application without employing the services of a legal professional, you can access the relevant forms and checklists below under the Forms section.

The forms

The standard forms you need to lodge for a divorce or 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
  • Acknowledgement of Service Form M6 or form M6A for Civil partnership

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

Grounds for divorce or 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 or 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.


Matrimonial proceedings fees are set in out in the Family Proceedings Fees Schedule:

Court Fees from 1 November 2023

Contacting the Matrimonial Office

If you have procedural queries relating to divorce / dissolution of civil partnership proceedings, you should contact the Matrimonial Office

The Matrimonial Office postal address is

The Matrimonial Office
Royal Courts of Justice
Chichester Street
Belfast BT1 3JF

The office can also be contacted via

Phone 030 0200 7812
Fax 028 9072 5939
In person The public counter for the Matrimonial Office is on the 1st Floor, May Street Wing of the Royal Courts of Justice building.

Back to top