It is difficult to put a typical time on how long a divorce will take. We have said many times that the “quickie” divorce is a myth. The only thing that is quick is if the parties agree not to contest anything so the actual documentation is sorted very quickly. This doesn’t change the amount of time it takes for the court to process the paperwork and issue a decree nisi and, then, the decree absolute.
How long does it take to get a divorce in the UK?
Around 24 weeks would be a pretty fast turnaround for a divorce. A good rule of thumb for a straight-forward divorce from application to decree absolute is five to seven months. However, just speaking to my colleagues at Woolley & Co has revealed huge inconsistencies around the country. This begs the question: is there somewhere in the country where you will get a divorce faster? Has one region discovered the Holy Grail of how to process a divorce quickly?
What my small bit of research amongst our 23 divorce lawyers showed is that while one court can be good for a few months, it can then go completely downhill and cause significant delays for divorce and other family law cases.
“Fluctuating from bearable to useless” was the response one of my colleagues gave when asked about his local court. Others are finding things more on the bearable side of the equation unless there is an element to the case that is unusual. If so, that can delay things by months.
There are pockets of hope though (as at January 10th 2018) with some courts turning around paperwork very quickly, one divorce petition was issued within 2 days in the South West whilst Nottingham took 4 weeks. Whilst some courts seem to manage to process certain documents quickly, divorce petitions for instance, but others, like Form As, very slowly. Same court, different papers, different timings.
Why does divorce take so long?
Something that I have no doubt continues to be a contributing factor is the reticence of the industry to embrace modern communications technology. From phones not being answered efficiently (if at all), to documents not accepted via email, the Courts have not been an early adopter of many of the devices and practices that mainstream businesses now see as routine.
Courts (and solicitors!) are getting better, slowly, but of course, adopting new practices takes time and, more importantly, money. That is something the court service does not have and is a theme that runs through many issues we have when dealing with courts for family law issues.
The sad fact is that it's our clients, people going through a divorce, who suffer, and we are left to manage their expectations of how long things might take. Where we can we will even try to use the courts, we know are processing paperwork more quickly, but unfortunately, a court that’s handling things quickly one week might be overwhelmed the next. The root cause is underfunding leading to understaffing. That’s no consolation for a divorcing couple however who read false claims in the media of celebrities getting a “quickie divorce” and want to know why they can’t have one too.
Woolley & Co, family law team