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How Long Does it Take to Get a Divorce?

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Divorce in the UK has become more straightforward and streamlined from 6 April 2022 due to significant changes introduced to English divorce law, including so-called ‘no fault’ divorce. These changes impact how long divorce takes, making some parts of the process longer, while also potentially helping to speed up other aspects of divorce.

Divorce proceedings (i.e. the legal process of ending your marriage) will now take a minimum of 6 months (26 weeks). Previously, it was theoretically possible to get divorced in around 3-4 months, so this part of getting divorced may actually take longer. This increase is due to the introduction of a “cooling off’ period to give couples time to reflect on whether divorce is really right for them.

Where the new divorce rules may help to speed things up is in relation to arrangements for children and division of finances. The new rules don’t directly impact these issues, but they are designed to remove unnecessary conflict from divorce, so can make it more likely children and finances can be dealt with amicably.

If you can avoid court proceedings to sort out child arrangements and finances, then this is likely to make dealing with these parts of divorce much faster. Reaching agreement on these issues voluntarily can often be achieved in a matter of months, whereas court proceedings can take years, so avoiding conflict and keeping things amicable can save you a huge amount of time (as well as legal fees and stress!).

How has divorce law in the UK changed?

Key changes to UK divorce law introduced from 6 April 2022 by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 are:

  • Removing the need to provide reasons for the breakdown of the marriage (previously one spouse usually had to take the blame) – it is hoped this will take a way a significant potential source of conflict from divorce proceedings
  • Removing the possibility for someone to oppose a divorce brought by their spouse (in most cases)
  • Allowing a divorcing couple to apply for the divorce together
  • Adding a 20-week “cooling off” period for couples to reflect
  • Modernising some of the language used

How long does each stage of divorce proceedings take?

Filing the divorce application

In order to begin the divorce process, you must submit a divorce application to the court. The application must contain the details of both parties as well as a ‘statement of irretrievable breakdown’ i.e. a declaration that the marriage is over with no hope of reconciliation.

Previously, one spouse would apply for a divorce alone, however, under the new rules a couple can apply for a divorce together, in which case they are referred to as joint applicants. If one spouse makes the application alone, they will be referred to as the applicant and the other spouse will be referred to as the respondent.

There is no set time for completing the divorce application – it all depends how quickly you are able to fill in and submit the application.

Service of application (sole applications only)

Upon a sole application, the court will formally issue the divorce application and send it to the respondent along with a form that must be completed and returned to the court by the respondent. This form is known as the ‘acknowledgement of service’ form.

The respondent must respond to the court within 14 days of receiving the acknowledgement of service form saying whether they agree with the divorce or not. Under the new rules, there are only very limited grounds on which the respondent can contest the divorce.

The only grounds on which to dispute a divorce application as of 6 April 2022 are the following:

  • The respondent believes the court in England and Wales does not have the jurisdiction to conduct divorce proceedings in their case, e.g. because neither party lives in or has any connection to this jurisdiction
  • The marriage in question is not valid
  • The marriage has already been legally ended

Applying for a Conditional Order

After the court has reviewed all the documents, they will set a date on which the Conditional Order (formerly known as the ’Decree Nisi’) will be pronounced in court.

There is a minimum wait of 20 weeks after the divorce application has been issued by the court before the Conditional Order can be pronounced.

Application for the Final Order

Once the Conditional Order has been pronounced, the applicant or applicants must wait a minimum of 6 weeks before they can apply for the Final Order (previously known as the Decree Absolute). Once the Final Order has been issued, then the marriage is legally ended.

To request the Final Order, you must fill out a standard application form. The parties are officially divorced only after this has been granted and sealed.

For a sole application, if the applicant fails to file for the Final Order, the respondent can apply three months later.

How long does a divorce financial settlement take?

What happens to your family home, savings, pensions and other shared assets can be decided voluntarily between the separating couple or by a court. Generally, if you can agree a divorce financial settlement amicably, this will take much less time than if you need a court to decide.

It’s important to obtain a financial settlement when separating from your spouse as otherwise they may be able to make financial claims even after you’re divorced and there’s no time limit for making these.

Agreeing a settlement voluntarily can take as little as a few months, whereas if you need to rely on a court to make a financial separation (with a Financial Order), this can take potentially years.

How long do child arrangements take in divorce?

As with financial matters, arrangements for children can be agreed voluntarily or you may need to apply to a court to decide. Again, reaching an amicable agreement will typically be much faster as you will not need to wait for court dates. It is also usually much less costly and less stressful for everyone, especially your children.

A voluntary agreement on child arrangements can usually be reached quickly. If you need to apply to a court for a Child Arrangements Order, this can take much longer, especially if there are any safeguarding concerns that must be investigated.

Below, we explain how the steps of applying for a Child Arrangements Order might possibly unfold:

Submit an application to the court and serve papers on the other parent

Your paperwork is submitted to the court. The court will then issue the application and send a copy of it to CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). Your solicitor will serve a copy of the issued court papers on the other parent.

Ex-partner acknowledges receipt and submits paperwork

The other parent has two weeks to acknowledge that they have received the papers and fill in their answer form.

Safeguarding checks

Both you and your ex-partner have checks conducted by CAFCASS on you with the police and social services.

First hearing dispute resolution appointment (FHDRA) at court

The preliminary hearing of your court application. If you are unable to reach an agreement or there are safeguarding concerns that need to be investigated, the court will make directions as to how your case should proceed. This could involve hearings, reports or statements to be undertaken by CAFCASS or social services depending on the issues in your particular case.

How long this takes depends on the factors within your specific case and if there are any safeguarding concerns. There is no standard time frame and it will typically take between 6 to 12 months.

Will no fault divorce be faster?

As stated above, no fault divorce won’t make divorce proceedings faster and, in some cases, it may actually make things slower due to the new 6-month minimum time frame.

However, by removing unnecessary conflict, it will potentially increase your chances of dealing with finances and children amicably. This could speed up these parts of your divorce by avoiding the need for court proceedings where you will often be waiting many months for a court date.

Get expert help to ensure your divorce goes ahead as quickly as possible

Getting help from an experienced divorce solicitor can ensure your divorce goes ahead faster and more smoothly.

While applying for a divorce is now fairly simple thanks to the new rules introduced in April 2022, sorting out your finances and arrangements for children can be more complicated. This is an area where significant delays can be caused by lack of understanding or failure to communicate effectively.

To find out how we can help with your divorce, please get in touch with one of our teams in WinchesterAlresfordSunningdale or London. Alternatively, you can contact us by telephone on 01962 841041 or email info@taylorfordyce.co.uk.