How Long Does a Divorce Take?

If you’re getting divorced, one of the most common questions is ‘how long does a divorce take’? There are lots of factors that affect how long your divorce takes. Keep reading for a guide to the timescales involved in the divorce process.

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What is a ‘quickie’ divorce?

You may have heard of the so-called ‘quickie divorce’ which promises to end your marriage within just a few weeks.

The truth is that there is no such thing as a ‘quickie divorce’ in England and Wales. Although the time a divorce takes depends on several factors (see the section below), divorce has to follow a set procedure.

Even if you agree, the quickest a divorce can be concluded is between 3 and 4 months. The reality is that it often takes longer than this for your divorce to be finalised, and so a timescale of 20 – 24 weeks is more likely.

The circumstances of your divorce, how quickly paperwork is dealt with, and how busy the courts are will all have an impact on how quickly your divorce goes through. Read more about the factors that can affect the time it takes to divorce below.

What factors affect how long my divorce will take?

Back in 2014, the Office for National Statistics reported that the average time for a divorce to reach ‘decree absolute’ in England and Wales was 33 weeks.

The introduction of regional Divorce Centres in 2015 was designed to speed up the process, but there are still lots of factors that affect how long your divorce will take.

How long it takes you to start the divorce process

One of the biggest delays in formally separating from your spouse happens at the very start of the process, before you’ve even filled in the divorce petition.

Research has found that an overwhelming majority of people try and resolve problems in their relationship – often for months or even years – before they acknowledge that their marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Getting divorced is a big decision to make, and some studies have found that the average person takes more than 2 years thinking about getting divorced before they formally start the process.

Whether you agree

If you agree on your divorce, and you have no assets to divide or children to consider, the divorce process is simpler. In addition, if you have already reached agreement on any financial and childcare matters, then your divorce is likely to go through faster.

Your divorce is likely to take longer if the two of you don’t agree on:

  • Contact arrangements for your children
  • The division of your financial assets
  • Whether the divorce should happen at all

An ‘uncontested’ divorce is where you agree, with neither of you disputing it. In this instance the process can be straightforward, and you normally won’t have to attend court.

A ‘contested’ divorce is normally more complex, and you will normally have to attend at least two court hearings. This will naturally delay the process, meaning your divorce will take longer.

If you can agree on the above matters in advance, it should speed up the divorce process.

How busy the courts/divorce centres are

Before 2015, divorces were dealt with by local courts in England and Wales. Now, dedicated divorce centres have the responsibility of processing the administrative aspects of divorces.

The speed of your divorce can be affected by the workload at each of these regional divorce centres. At times they can have a significant backlog of work which can delay the process and add weeks to the time it takes your divorce to go through.

These delays can be frustrating, and your solicitor may have to chase the divorce centre more than once to progress your divorce paperwork.

How nasty you are

Just as your divorce can be sped up if the two of you agree on a range of issues, the process can be delayed if one of you decides to turn nasty.

Emotions can run high during a divorce and there may be occasions where one of you refuses to engage with the process. Taking a polarised position can delay the divorce, as it normally progresses faster if you are fair and even-tempered.

Whether all parties reveal the necessary information

During the divorce process you will be asked to provide evidence to help with the division of financial assets.

If you don’t provide full disclosure of your income, savings, pensions or investments then this can lead to lengthy delays. Trying to ‘hide’ assets can significantly delay the process, as a ‘decree absolute’ will often be withheld until all financial arrangements are agreed.

How complex your financial arrangements are

If you and your spouse own assets, then you will have to decide how these are divided as part of the divorce process. Assets may include the family home, pensions, savings, and personal effects, and you may also have to establish a schedule of child maintenance payments.

Arriving at a financial settlement can delay your divorce, particularly if there are issues on which you disagree. Whether you reach an agreement through your solicitors, mediation, arbitration or through the courts, this process can take time.

If your financial agreement needs to be dealt with by the court, then this can add weeks or even months to the process.

As the financial elements of a divorce can be some of the most contentious, it pays to focus on these if you want the process to be concluded as quickly as possible.

Whether you need to make childcare arrangements

If you have agreed childcare arrangements, then your divorce can proceed. If not, the process may be delayed as you establish a schedule of contact for your children.

You don’t have to go to court to seek agreement, and you can establish a framework for childcare through mediation or through your solicitor. However, if you do end up in court then this can significantly delay the divorce process.

Going to court can mean your divorce takes a long time, and it may also cost you a lot of money. Coming to an agreement through collaborative law can help you to finalise your divorce more quickly.

How quickly your spouse responds to the paperwork

The first step in the divorce process is to complete and file your divorce petition with the court. The court then sends the petition to your spouse. When they receive this they have to return the Acknowledgement of Service form and the process can begin.

If your ex doesn’t send back the paperwork, the process can be delayed. And, if they live abroad, then the time for returning the Acknowledgement of Service form rises from 7 days to 30 days.

Any delays in returning paperwork lengthens the divorce process. For example, if your ex doesn’t return the Acknowledgement of Service form, the process is delayed as it is necessary to prove that they have received the divorce petition before matters can proceed. You then either have to serve the notice again or arrange another form of personal service by which you can prove they have received the petition. All this can take time.

Uncertainty about the process

Your divorce proceedings require both of you to move the case forward. This might be through returning documents promptly or chasing the progress of the paperwork.

If there are areas that need resolution, then the process will only move as quickly as the two of you can reach agreement on these matters. Disputes can bring the process to a grinding halt, and so any uncertainty about what to do next can cause delays.

Handling everything yourself

Stricter legal aid requirements have meant that more and more people are representing themselves in divorce proceedings.

Handling legal matters yourself may save you money in the short term, but as your knowledge of the process may not be up to scratch, it can significantly delay the end outcome. You may need more time to prepare and present your case, and if you’re not well-versed in court procedure you can easily miss a crucial part of the process.

A family solicitor knows the process inside out and can handle issues which might delay your divorce. They can advise you regarding the law, help you reach agreement on disputed matters and chase any outstanding paperwork.

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How long between a ‘decree nisi’ and a ‘decree absolute’?

Once the court has decided that the reasons for divorce have been proven, they will ask for the ‘decree nisi’ to be produced. Both parties are then advised of the date fixed for ‘decree nisi’. This is likely to be a few weeks after your application is lodged. You don’t need to attend court as the evidence is filed in your statement.

You can apply for your ‘decree absolute’ – the document that legally ends your marriage – six weeks and one day after the ‘decree nisi’ pronouncement date. If you send it sooner than this, it could be rejected by the court.

If your spouse started proceedings, you can apply for a ‘decree absolute’ after an additional 3 months.

Once the court has received your ‘decree absolute’ application it normally takes 2 – 3 weeks for your ‘decree absolute’ certificate to arrive.

The divorce timeline at a glance

This timescale assumes that there are no financial or childcare issues to resolve, that you are both in agreement, and that all paperwork is completed and filed promptly.

If this is not the case, the timescale below is likely to be extended by weeks or months.

Within 1 week

Your ex should send the Acknowledgement of Service form back to the court. They should confirm where and when they received the divorce petition, whether they intend to defend the petition and whether any orders affecting children will be sought.

If your ex lives outside the country, then they have up to 30 days to return the Acknowledgement of Service.

If you don’t have proof that your ex has received this document, then the process cannot proceed. You may have to arrange for the petition to be delivered in person or obtain a court order that proof does not need to be given and that your spouse has received the petition (this is called ’dispensing with service’). This will add days or weeks to the process.

Within 2 weeks

The court forwards a copy of the Acknowledgement of Service to your solicitor. If your ex is not defending the divorce petition (i.e. they agree the divorce should proceed), then your solicitor can prepare the Statement of Service in which you swear the contents of the divorce petition are true.

This is then sent to the court with a request for a date for the ‘decree nisi’ to be pronounced.

Within 6 – 8 weeks

The court will consider whether or not you have proved the reasons for the divorce. If they decide that they have, they will give a certificate for the ‘decree nisi’ to be pronounced. You and your solicitors will be advised of this date.

Within 15 weeks

You can apply for the ‘decree absolute’ six weeks and one day after the date of the ‘decree nisi’.

If there are any outstanding disagreements regarding finances or childcare, then these may have to be resolved prior to the application for a ‘decree absolute’ is made. It is recommended that your interests are protected before the application for a ‘decree absolute’ is made.

Within 17 – 18 weeks

You will receive your ‘decree absolute’ certificate, legally ending your marriage.

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