How long is the cooling off period for divorce in the UK, and how does it work?

Before you can apply for your conditional order in your divorce, there is a mandatory 20-week cooling off period. This gives the parties an opportunity to reflect on their divorce, attempt reconciliation, or plan and agree practical arrangements for their future apart. It is hoped that the 20-week cooling off period will help separating couples save time and money and bring an end to the ‘blame game’ that can all too easily become pervasive. This article looks at the issues involved.

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When does the 20-week cooling off period begin?

This mandatory period of reflection, referred to as the 20-week cooling off period, begins from the date the divorce application is officially ‘issued’ by the court. Here is a list of things you can do during this time to ease your transition through the divorce:

  • You may wish to use this time to begin the healing process and put yourself in the best position to make children and financial arrangements. Some people may seek therapy or other professionals to help them navigate the changes or reach an agreement with their ex.
  • If you have children, use the time to create a parenting plan. This can set out things such as where the children will live, who they will live with, and the amount of time they spend with the non-resident parent. As well as things such as maintenance.
  • Tell your children’s school you have separated from your partner. This can help teaching staff understand any changes in your children’s behaviour and perhaps offer extra support if needed.
  • If you have pets, you could think about writing a co-petting agreement. This can deal with things such as who the pet will live with, shared care, vets bills, etc.
  • Ask your pension provider for your CETV (Cash Equivalent Transfer Value) if you are applying for a financial order. This can take some time to come through so it can work to your advantage to plan ahead.
  • Create a list of your individual and joint assets and debts. In order to divide your assets, you will need to have a good idea of what you have, both separately and as a couple.
  • Negotiate and agree your financial settlement.
  • Get your financial agreement drafted into a consent order. If you want to cut all financial ties with your ex and make an agreement legally binding, you will need to apply for a consent order.


Can the 20 week cooling off period in divorce be shortened?

In certain circumstances, it has always been possible to reduce the 6 week timeframe between what was formerly known as the decree nisi and decree absolute under Section 1(8) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The court still retains this power and can also truncate the 20 week period before the conditional order can be applied for, although applications are rare. The court has always been of the view that shortening the divorce timeframe should only be ordered in exceptional circumstances. Historically, successful applications have centred on the impending death of one of the parties getting the divorce.

What happens after the 20-week cooling off period?

After the 20-week cooling off period, you can apply for a conditional order. Once this has been granted by the court, there is a further wait of 6 weeks and 1 day before the applicant may apply for the final order. Once the final order has been granted and issued, the parties will be legally divorced, and the marriage will be ended.

It is possible for the respondent to apply for the final order if the applicant refuses to do so, although this can be more complicated and requires a further application being made to the court.

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