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How long does a divorce take in the UK?

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How long a divorce takes is one of the first questions people often have when considering ending their marriage. The legal process to end your marriage will take a minimum of six months in England and Wales, but dealing with other aspects of your divorce, including the division of assets and arrangements for children, can take more or less time, depending on the situation.

Knowing what to expect can make the divorce process easier to face up to. Understanding the different approaches you can take to sorting out issues around finances and children can also help you find the quickest way to get divorced for your circumstances. We cover these issues and more in this blog to help demystify how long it takes to get a divorce in the UK.

It should be noted that this blog is not intended as legal advice and is for educational purposes only. Should you wish to discuss your specific situation, our divorce and separation solicitors will be happy to answer any queries you may have.

For expert support with getting divorced, please call one of our offices in Banbury, Bicester and Rugby or simply fill out our enquiry form and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Typical time to divorce explained

In the past, a divorce would typically take around four to six months to complete, however, this changed when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 came into force on 6 April 2022.

Under the new rules, there are now two mandatory ‘reflection’ periods in the process, adding up to a total of 26-weeks (six months). This means a divorce will take at least six months to finalise, with most taking around seven months in practice as a result of the time needed to complete the steps around the mandatory waiting periods.

Why has the average time to divorce increased?

While the new rules mean a standard divorce may take slightly longer than under the previous rules, there are significant benefits to the new approach. This is because divorcing couples no longer need to give a reason for the breakdown of their marriage, as was required under the old rules.

The old system often caused delays, as a couple would normally need to agree on the reason for the marriage ending or have a court decide on this. In most cases, this required one spouse to ‘take the blame’ for the marriage ending or else the couple would have to wait years before they could apply for a divorce without assigning fault. Removing the need to give a reason, therefore, takes away the potential for these sorts of delays.

Another issue under the old rules was that one spouse (the ‘applicant’) would need to start divorce proceedings and the other spouse (the ‘respondent’) would need to agree to the divorce and reasons given for it in the application. The respondent could contest the divorce, forcing the applicant to take the matter before a court, which could cause significant delays or even see the divorce application turned down.

The new rules remove the right for the respondent to contest the divorce in all but the most limited circumstances, taking away another potential source of delay in the process of divorce.

So, while the new rules mean that the average time to divorce may have increased slightly, they also mean there is very little chance of a divorce taking significantly longer than the standard timeline. This, therefore, helps to make divorce much more straightforward, predictable and less stressful than was often previously the case.

Sole application versus joint application – why it matters when getting divorced

Under the new divorce rules in England and Wales, a divorce application can either be submitted by one of the spouses acting alone (a ‘sole application’) or by both spouses working together (a ‘joint application’). Generally, a joint application is the fastest way to get divorced.

The reason for this is that, with a sole application, the other spouse will need to be served a copy of the application by the court and they will have to respond to the court confirming there is no reason the divorce cannot go ahead. This adds an extra step and the possibility for delays.

So, wherever possible, a joint application is preferable as it can allow your divorce to be completed faster and with less risk of holdups.

Timeline for the process of divorce

A standard divorce timeline will look something like this:

  • Completing the divorce application: An individual or a couple submit their divorce application (normally completed online).
  • Issuing the application: A court formally ‘issues’ the divorce – typically within about 10 days of the application being submitted.
  • Serving notice of the divorce (sole applications only): The court will need to serve a copy of the application to the spouse who did not make the application. This should normally happen within a maximum of 28 days of the court issuing the divorce.
  • Responding to the divorce application (sole applications only): The respondent will have 14 days to complete the ‘acknowledgement of service’ form and return this to the court. The respondent will need to confirm that there is no reason the divorce cannot proceed.
  • First mandatory wait period: The applicant/s will need to wait a minimum of 20 weeks from the date the court issued the divorce. This is time to reflect and make sure the applicant/s are happy to move forward with ending their marriage.
  • Applying for the Conditional Order: Once the 20-week wait period has passed, an applicant can apply to the court for a Conditional Order. This is a court order that states there is no reason the divorce cannot go ahead. Formerly, this was known as a ‘decree nisi’.
  • Second Mandatory Wait Period: Once the Conditional Order is granted, there is a second reflection period of six weeks before the next stage of the process can take place.
  • Applying for the Final Order: Once the second wait period is over, an applicant can apply to the court for the Final Order that legally dissolves their marriage. The Final Order was previously known as the ‘decree absolute’. When the Final Order is issued, then the marriage is legally over.

What is the fastest way to get a divorce settlement?

The process of dividing assets in a divorce is entirely separate from the legal process to end your marriage set out above. Normally, it is advisable to sort out your finances before you apply for the Final Order, so this can impact the overall time to divorce.

There are two broad ways of reaching a financial settlement – through voluntary agreement between the spouses or through applying to a court to make a decision for you. It is almost always much faster to reach an agreement outside of a court as you do not need to wait for a hearing date.

Methods to reach a voluntary settlement include constructive negotiations between the spouses, as well as alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation and arbitration. These can take anywhere from days to a few months, depending on the situation. It is also normally advisable to apply to a court for a Consent Order to make any voluntary agreement legally binding, as well as a Clean Break Order to prevent the risk of a spouse making claims against your finances in future.

How long it will take to get a decision from a court, if required, is hard to predict as it will largely depend on how quickly a hearing date is available, as well as if either party appeals the court’s decision.

Our team will be happy to advise on financial arrangements in divorce, including reaching divorce settlements amicably and pursuing a Financial Order through the courts.

How long does a divorce take with children?

How long a divorce takes with children will, again, significantly depend on whether the parents can agree on arrangements for children voluntarily or if court proceedings are required.

As with financial matters, it will generally be much faster to agree arrangements for children amicably through methods such as negotiation, mediation or arbitration. If court proceedings are needed, this can delay matters considerably.

Get expert divorce advice in Banbury, Bicester and Rugby

If you would like to discuss how we can help with your divorce, please get in touch with a member of our team.

We have offices in Banbury, Bicester and Rugby working with clients across Coventry and Warwickshire, the West Midlands, Oxfordshire and nationwide.