How long does a divorce take?

On average, the divorce process in England and Wales takes between four to six months.

However, there are a number of factors that can impact on the length of a divorce including lack of cooperation by one party, complicated financial matters and/or child arrangements along with delays at divorce centres and family courts. 

Detailed below is an estimated time of the divorce process by Solicitor Victoria Aked from our office in Tunbridge Wells and some frequently asked questions.

Although it is important to note that this process does not factor in delays caused by the issues mentioned above. 

How long does it take to file for divorce? 

Estimated timescale: 24 hours to 12 weeks

Once it is determined that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, the application for divorce – the Divorce Petition, can be prepared. 

Once the petition is drafted, it is sent to the Respondent for their agreement.

This limits the risk of the petition being defended and ultimately, will reduce the time the petition takes to go through. 

The Acknowledgement of Service

Estimated timescale: 7 days to 8 weeks

The Respondent in the divorce is sent the Divorce Petition and the Acknowledgment of Service and is given 7 days to return the completed Acknowledgment of Service to the Court. 

This part of the process may take longer if the Respondent has not received a draft copy of the divorce petition and decides that they wish to defend the petition, or indeed not respond at all.  

How long does it take to get a Decree Nisi?

Estimated timescale: 8 weeks

The application for Decree Nisi is made by the petitioner once the Acknowledgment of Service has been returned. 

Decree Nisi is the stage at which the Court has confirmed that the legal and procedural requirements have been met for the marriage to be dissolved. 

The Court will set a date where the Decree Nisi will be pronounced in open Court. There is usually no need for either party to attend this hearing. 

How long does a divorce take after decree nisi?

The final stage is to apply for a Decree Absolute.

Estimated timescale: 6 weeks to 12 weeks

The Decree Absolute can be applied for 6 weeks and 1 day after the Decree Nisi was pronounced in Court. This is the final order in the divorce process and ends the marriage. 

It can be shown that there are a variety of matters that influence how fast or slow the divorce process takes. Much rests with the respondent engaging and cooperating with the process. 

Equally, how busy your local divorce centre is a factor in the ‘turnaround’ time for the issuing of documents to move the process on to the next stage.  

Frequently asked questions about how long a divorce takes. 

Is there a difference in the timescales between ‘contested’ and ‘uncontested’ divorces? 

If the divorce is contested by the respondent, the overall process will take longer than that of an uncontested divorce. Whilst contested divorces are rare in practice, occasionally the respondent will seek to contest, or defend, the divorce. 

If this happens, the respondent is given approximately 3 weeks additional time to advise the Court that they wish to defend the divorce. The Court will then list the matter for a hearing, or possibly two, which will extend the timeframe by several months.

After the hearing, the Court may then direct the parties to pursue alternative methods i.e. mediation or collaborative family law to reach an agreement. 

Overall, a contested divorce will take several months longer than the uncontested procedure.  Parties should, therefore, seek to agree on the divorce petition from the outset and, if this cannot be done, negotiate and amend an issued petition before the Decree Nisi stage is reached. 

How long does it take to get a divorce without consent?

The only ‘fact’ to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage that requires consent is ‘2 years separation’. If you do not think your spouse will agree that you have been separated for a period of two or more years, then you should not base the breakdown of the marriage on this fact.  

To ensure that you do not waste time and money, your lawyer should request consent, in writing, from the respondent before the divorce petition is lodged with the Court. 

The other 4 facts which can prove the breakdown of the marriage do not require ‘consent’ but will require the respondent not to dispute the facts when responding to the petition. 

If consent is not given freely, you can look to base the breakdown of the marriage on the behaviour of your spouse and the divorce process will proceed as normal. 

Do the facts relied on to prove the breakdown of the marriage influence how long it will take?

The answer to this question is yes. 

Fault-based petitions do not require any period of time to have elapsed (apart from the 1-year of marriage time bar) for the petitioner to commence divorce proceedings. 

Time-based petitions require either 2 or 5 years from separation (or desertion) to have passed before this fact can be cited.  

Different facts require different evidence to be presented before the Court and yourself and your lawyer should think carefully before particular facts are pleaded within the petition. 

Is it possible to make the divorce process quicker? 

Lodging your divorce petition online has proved, so far, to be more efficient than that of the paper-based application. We have experienced divorce petitions being issued by the court in 24 hours when using the online portal. 

Another way to ensure there is a limited delay in lodging your petition with the Court is to provide your lawyer with your marriage certificate,  information about your wedding and evidence of the facts proving the breakdown of the marriage at the earliest opportunity. 

Ensuring you complete the documentation required for each stage and returning this to the Court as soon as possible will reduce any delay, making the overall process shorter in time. 

Finally, if it is possible to discuss your intention to divorce with your spouse, this will help avoid any disagreement between both parties to the contents of the divorce petition and the timely return of documents to Court.

Get in touch

If you would like any advice on long it takes to get a divorce or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist family lawyers here.

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