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How long does a divorce take in the UK?

By , on Tuesday May 10, 2022 at 1:12 pm

Even if you and your former partner are on amicable terms, getting divorced can be an incredibly difficult experience to go through. The likelihood is that you’ll want the process over and done with as quickly as possible, allowing everyone involved to move forward.

On 6 April 2022, new divorce legislation was introduced to give divorcing parties a less complicated divorce process. The new no-fault divorce law is intended to reduce conflict but it may actually mean that divorce proceedings take slightly longer in some cases.

Under the new divorce rules, it will take around 7 months to get a divorce. This is because there is now a minimum 20-week wait to apply for the Conditional Order, which is a key part of the divorce process.

The previous divorce timeline in the UK was around 4-6 months, so some couples may have to wait a little longer for their divorce. However, this is balanced out by the simplification of the process and removal of the need to assign blame for the failure of the marriage. The possibility of contesting a divorce has also been removed, taking away one of the biggest potential sources of delay in divorce.

Key changes to divorce legislation

Several key changes have been introduced to divorce legislation in the UK. While the grounds for divorce remain the same – the irretrievable breakdown of marriage – there is no longer any need to provide reasons for this.

Under previous divorce rules, the applicant was required to provide a reason for the end of the marriage. Potential reasons included desertion, adultery or unreasonable behaviour and meant that one party had to essentially blame the other. It was often necessary for the couple to negotiate what to put in the divorce application, adding a potential source of delay before the formal divorce process started.

When filing for no-fault divorce, neither party needs to offer a reason for the divorce. Both individuals may submit a joint application if they wish and there is no longer the requirement to assert blame.

Under no-fault divorce law, further key changes include:

  • If one individual wants to get a divorce, the other spouse has no opportunity to contest the divorce (except in very limited circumstances)
  • There is now a compulsory 20-week wait to apply for the Conditional Order (which replaces the Decree Nisi) on top of the existing 6-week wait to apply for the Final Order (formerly the Decree Absolute) once the Conditional Order is granted
  • The person who files for the divorce is called the applicant (formerly the ‘petitioner’)

Why has UK divorce law changed?

Under the old divorce rules, one of the divorcing couple would need to take the blame for the marriage ending or the couple would need to live separately for a minimum of 2 years before applying for a divorce. This could fuel conflict at an already difficult time or seriously delay proceedings.

If one member of the couple contested the divorce, the applicant would potentially have had to endure a 5-year wait before they could be granted a divorce. Under the new rules, it is no longer possible to contest a divorce, avoiding this possibility.

How long does it take to get divorced in the UK?

The legal process of ending a marriage can take a minimum of 7 months, providing that all divorce paperwork is completed on time. However, the division of finances and childcare arrangements can potentially take longer. This will depend on how complex the issues that need to be resolved are and whether the couple are able to quickly reach agreement.

This minimum 7-month timeline also does not account for any court delays, errors made during the application process or delays from the respondent.

Every case is different and divorce timeframes in the UK will depend on the individual circumstances. To judge how long a divorce takes, it’s necessary to understand the complexity of the case and how long each stage takes. It is therefore strongly recommended to get specialist advice at an early stage, so you have a clear picture of what to expect.

How long does it take to fill in a divorce application form?

The first step to applying for a divorce is completing the online application form. This requires the applicant to confirm that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and to state whether they are a sole or joint applicant.

Applicants must include both spouses’ names, contact details and their original marriage certificate or a certified copy. It’s also necessary to state that the court has jurisdiction to deal with the case. Generally, this means confirming that both members of the couple are habitually resident in England or Wales.

Before completing a divorce application, it is sensible to get legal advice from a solicitor.

The process of completing the online application might take anything from 15 minutes to an hour depending on your level of familiarity with online application forms and your ability to understand the legal questions being asked of you.

How long does it take to file a divorce application?

If you submit your divorce application online, it will be processed automatically by the relevant court. If you choose to submit a paper application, you will need to send it to your local family court.

At this stage, you should receive a notice confirming the application has been issued and a case number. You’ll also receive a copy of the application (including a stamp from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service). If you are a sole applicant, the court will also send a copy of the application form to your ex-partner.

It typically takes as little as 10 days for the court to process an online application and formally ‘issue’ your divorce. If you send a paper application by post, it can take up to a month for your divorce to be issued.

How long does it take for divorce papers to be served in the UK?

The time it takes for divorce papers to be served depends on the method of application. As discussed above, it will typically take up to 10 days for papers to be served after an online application is made. If an application is made by post, it is likely to take up to a month.

How long do you have to respond to a divorce application?

Divorcing couples can now apply for a divorce together (a ‘joint application’) or individually (a ‘sole application’).

For a sole application, the court will send an ‘Acknowledgement of Service’ and a Notice of Proceedings to the spouse who did not make the application (termed the ‘respondent’). On receiving these documents, the respondent has a period of 14 days to complete and return the Acknowledgement of Service.

If the respondent does not respond within this 14-day period, and the court is satisfied that the application was received, the divorce can still go ahead. There is no option of contesting the divorce within this 14-day period.

In a joint application both parties will need to complete their details and agreement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, with one party starting the process (normally online) and the other being prompted to confirm all details having set up their own online account.

How long does it take to get a Conditional Order?

Once the court has issued your divorce, you will have to wait a minimum of 20 weeks before you can apply for the Conditional Order. This 20-week period is intended to give time for reflection during which both parties can consider their current position and ensure that they wish to proceed with the divorce.  It is also a time when the couple can make formal arrangements for the care of their children and division of family finances.

The Conditional Order, once issued, confirms that the court can find no reason why the parties should not obtain a divorce. You will need to apply for a Final Order to complete your divorce.

How long does it take to get a Final Order?

Once the Conditional Order has been issued, the divorcing parties must wait a further 6 weeks until they are eligible to apply for the Final Order.

On receiving the Final Order, the divorce is legally binding and complete. Under the old divorce law, the Final Order was referred to as the Decree Absolute.

How long does a divorce financial settlement take?

When going through a divorce, couples will need to come to a financial agreement. This should include separating property, investments, shares, pensions and personal belongings as well as making arrangements for children.

When dividing assets in a divorce, the theoretical starting point is a 50/50 split. However, it is quite rare that finances end up being split exactly equally.

Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 is used as a reference point, to divide finances in a divorce. The Act focuses on dividing the assets fairly by assessing the income and earning capacity of both individuals, as well as their future financial responsibilities and contribution to the marriage.

Given that there is plenty to assess and that some couples may have complicated financial situations, reaching a financial settlement can take anywhere between 9 months and 1 year.

The amount of time it takes to get divorced largely depends on how complicated the divorcing couple’s financial situation is. If you are able to agree a financial settlement voluntarily in the form of a Consent Order, this will generally be much faster than if you need to apply to a court to decide on the division of finances with a court imposed Financial Order.

Learn more about how we can help with divorce settlements.

How long does it take to make childcare arrangements during a divorce?

Child arrangements will usually need to be arranged quickly to provide certainty for your children. Ideally, these will be agreed through private negotiation or mediation and can often be sorted out between the couple themselves without any external input.

If a divorcing couple cannot agree on child arrangements, they’ll need to apply to a court for a Child Arrangements Order. The process to obtain a Child Arrangements Order varies slightly on a case-by-case basis. Typically, the first stage involves submitting an application to the court. The court will notify the other parent that an application has been made.

CAFCASS may carry out a background check on both partners with social services and the police. The next stage is for the parents to attend a preliminary court hearing. Depending on the case, further hearings may be required to finalise the details and make the Child Arrangements Order legally binding.

In total, obtaining a Child Arrangements Order can take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year.

Agreeing child arrangements through mediation is usually preferable and quicker than attending court, although not every case may be suitable for family mediation.

Learn more about how we can help with children law.

Is a joint divorce application quicker?

A joint divorce application is likely to be quicker to initiate. For example, an Acknowledgement of Service is not required, which means that, once an application is issued, the 20-week waiting period for the Conditional Order can begin.

Of course, joint applications still require both parties to be proactive and to sign all of the relevant documents in a timely fashion. If one spouse is less efficient than the other, this could slow the application down.

How long does family meditation take?

Family meditation refers to a process commonly used in divorce where a professional mediator supports families to arrange their finances and childcare arrangements. If families can negotiate these matters using a meditation process, they may be able to avoid going to court.

Before divorcing couples can access family meditation, they will need to first attend a Meditation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which takes approximately 45 minutes. The aim of the session is to assess whether the case is suitable for mediation.

How long divorce mediation takes depends on the individual circumstances, and how easily the couple can agree and negotiate. Some couples may be able to agree on their childcare arrangements and finances in one or two mediation sessions. Others may experience a longer family mediation process of between 3 and 6 weeks.

Learn more about divorce mediation and how it works.

What is the average length of time a divorce takes?

Currently, the average time to get a divorce is 6-8 months, however, the process may take longer, depending on the circumstances.

To get a realistic idea of how long your divorce might take, it’s best to consult a divorce solicitor. A trained divorce lawyer will be able to take into consideration the specifics of the case and provide you with a more accurate estimate of what to expect.

How quickly can you get divorced?

Under the new no-fault divorce law, the quickest time that you can get divorced is 7 months. This takes into consideration the application process, with the mandatory 20-week and 6-week waiting periods and time take for application, issuing and response from the other party.

It’s worth noting that this timeframe does not include a potentially lengthy financial arrangements process and does not account for any delays that courts may be experiencing at any particular moment in time.

Every divorce and the circumstances surrounding it are different. Even where you may be on amicable terms with your former partner, this isn’t to say that the divorce will be completely straightforward. Delays could occur that are simply out of your control.

How can I speed up the divorce process?

If you’re keen to get a quick divorce, there are a few simple things that you can do to speed up the process. Firstly, the best thing to do is to work with a divorce solicitor. They can support you throughout your divorce from start to finish, ensuring that you do not run into any legal setbacks that slow down your application.

Divorce solicitors can offer support in various forms, including help with:

  • Completing your divorce application
  • Making sure you apply for the Conditional Order and Final Order promptly
  • Guidance through family mediation services
  • Legal help with financial and childcare arrangements
  • Representation at court hearings if necessary

If you choose not to work with a divorce solicitor, it’s important that you research the divorce proceedings to ensure that you are aware of the deadlines and your legal obligations. Misunderstanding your legal rights and responsibilities could seriously slow down the process and cause unnecessary delays.

What could slow down divorce?

There are a number of potential stumbling blocks which could slow down the divorce timeline in the UK. These include:

  • Respondent not returning the Acknowledgement of Service
  • Complex negotiations concerning finances and children
  • Mistakes made in an application
  • Court delays

Working with an expert divorce solicitor from the outset can help to minimise the potential of these issues from occurring.

Talk to Woolley & Co Solicitors about your divorce

At Woolley & Co Solicitors, our expert divorce lawyers can offer specialist legal advice to guide you through a quick and stress-free divorce process.

To take advantage of your free 30-minute consultation with an expert local family law solicitor, call 0800 321 3832 or complete our quick online form.

Quyen Trickett
Family law solicitor Bournemouth

Blog Author - Quyen Trickett

Quyen TrickettQuyen Trickett

Woolley & Co's Bournemouth-based divorce and family solicitor Quyen has clients throughout the UK and abroad. Her local areas include Bournemouth, Poole and Winchester.


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