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How long does a divorce take?

Divorce isn’t a decision you want to take lightly. It’s painful, carries the potential for social stigma and will have repercussions in terms of personal finances and child custody. However, for over 100,000 British married couples each year, divorce is the result of untenable or intolerable marriage relationships.

If you’re considering a divorce, one of the first things you’ll want to know is how long it’ll take. While there’s no easy answer to this question, on average, a UK divorce takes between four and six months to enact, from initial petition to decree absolute. Read on for more information about how long a divorce process is; you can also view our guide for everything you need to know about getting a divorce.  

When can I apply for a divorce?

It’s important to bear in mind that you cannot apply for a divorce until you have been married for a year. While you can agree to a legal separation in the interim, you will remain legally married during that time.

How long the divorce process takes will depend upon whether the divorce petition is contested or uncontested. Austin Kemp have a 92% success rate in divorce and separation cases, so contact us today to see how we can help you.

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How long will a divorce take when uncontested?

Where both partners agree that a marriage is over, provided they have been married for a year, the time the divorce takes should be at the lower end of the average.  

However, there is a legal minimum period following the award of a decree nisi – a “cooling off” period of six weeks and one day. You can’t proceed to a decree absolute, whereupon all financial arrangements can be legally separated, until the decree nisi period has elapsed. Learn more about decree nisi and decree absolute.

How long will a divorce take when contested by one partner?

To petition for divorce, you need to decide the grounds upon which you’ll petition.  The marriage must have “irretrievably broken down”, and you must be able to demonstrate this breakdown. In brief, the three types of grounds include adultery, unreasonable behaviour and separation (either voluntary or involuntary).

Of course, a partner may contest your grounds for divorce, or you may contest it if your partner is the party petitioning for divorce. This will lead to legal ramifications and either arbitration or court proceedings. Necessarily, such a process will extend the timeframe for divorce proceedings.

Other factors which may extend the timescale for contested divorces include issues around finance and child custody.  If you have no children and have set up a clear legal arrangement for the separation of your finances (perhaps in the form of a pre-nuptial agreement), then the period of legal contestation may be minimised. However, it would be prudent to assume that proceedings will take a reasonable length of time, perhaps up to ten months or more.

What should I do if my divorce is contested?

It is vital that you engage the services of a family lawyer with a divorce specialisation as soon as possible in any contested divorce.  Your legal team will have the knowledge and experience to significantly reduce the timeframe of any divorce proceeding, court schedules and administration procedures notwithstanding.

What are the administrative timeframes for divorce?

The likely timeframes of an uncontested divorce are as follows:

STAGE ONE: DIVORCE FORM SUBMISSION

You must complete and submit a form (D8) to a divorce court. This can be done by post or online. You’ll need your marriage certificate to correctly copy over the relevant information. It may be worth consulting a lawyer even at this stage, since your form can be rejected if you complete it incorrectly.  

Timeframe: 6-10 Weeks

STAGE TWO: SERVICE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Once the court has received and approved your petition, they will send a copy to your spouse with an Acknowledgement of Service form to complete and return. Nothing will proceed until this form is signed by your partner. Once it is signed and returned to the court, you will be sent a copy and the divorce can proceed to the next stage.

Timeframe: 2-4 Weeks

STAGE THREE: DECREE NISI APPLICATION

When you apply for a decree nisi, a district judge will be listed to consider your petition and issue (if successful) a decree nisi.  Depending on how busy the court schedule is, this stage is likely to cause the longest delay in an uncontested divorce, due to the sheer volume of divorces being undertaken at any one time.

Timeframe: 6 – 10 weeks

STAGE FOUR: DECREE NISI PRONOUNCEMENT

As discussed above, once you receive your decree nisi, there is the six-week cooling-off process. During this time, you have an opportunity to discuss the separation of your finances, and here you should engage legal assistance. You can apply for a consent order to legally separate your assets.

You can also use this time to agree child custody and maintenance arrangements, again with legal input.

Timeframe: 6 weeks and 1 day

STAGE FIVE: DECREE ABSOLUTE APPLICATION/AWARD

Once you have the decree nisi and after the cooling-off period has ended, you can apply for the decree absolute, which will fully dissolve the marriage, enabling you to remarry in future should you so wish. The court should send you a decree absolute within two working days.

Timeframe: Approximately two days.

NB: If you have not come to a legally agreed financial arrangement, you can still be subject to claims against your money or assets. Such claims can be outstanding even years after heavily contested divorces.

The total minimum timeframe of the above uncontested divorce is 21 weeks; however, it is likely to be longer, and it would be prudent to allow 30 plus weeks.

Tips to Speed Up Your Divorce Proceedings

First and foremost, if you can reach an agreement with your partner prior to application, then things can proceed according to the above minimal timeframes.

Secondly, enlisting legal counsel (individually for both parties) should help speed up the proceedings by enabling you to reach an acceptable arrangement in an as non-antagonistic a manner as possible.

Thirdly, with appropriate legal assistance you can hit all the appropriate deadlines and complete all the necessary divorce papers to ensure your divorce proceeds smoothly.

Finally, by engaging in third-party moderated dialogue with your partner on issues including shared finances and child custody, potential stumbling blocks can be negotiated in a timely manner.

Why choose Austin Kemp for your divorce?

Divorce is never pleasant. Even if uncontested, the act of dissolving bonds forged in hope can have deep emotional resonance. However, there’s no reason why it cannot be professionally undertaken by experienced family lawyers, mitigating the suffering of both parties while providing the relief of a new start for both of you.

We are experts in divorce and separation, and our 92% success rate is testament to our specialist team of family solicitors. We have years of experience providing quality advice on complex divorce cases, with expertise in financial settlements, property settlements, child law and custody, possession agreements and more.

We were founded with the goal of becoming one of the most respected law firms to ever exist – it’s a key part of our story – and we continue to achieve these standards today. Don’t just take our word for it: view our testimonials and success stories for real-life examples.

For an initial confidential chat about divorce proceedings, why not call us today? Learn more about divorce and annulment and read insights about divorce from our legal experts, or take advantage of our legal library and legal videos for even more information.

FAQs related to divorce proceedings

Is there such a thing as a “quickie divorce”? 

Celeb divorces are never far from the headlines. We regularly read about stars who have headed to court and are granted their divorce in no time at all.

The reality is that getting a divorce within a matter of days, or a couple of weeks, is not possible. When the press report on these stories, it’s usually the decree nisi that is being referred to, rather than the final decree absolute.

So when considering the question ‘how long does a divorce take in the UK’, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is no such thing as a ‘quickie divorce’.

How does the financial settlement impact a divorce?

Normally, it is not the divorce process itself that takes the time. Reaching an agreement regarding the financial settlement (or asking a judge to decide for you) can be a lengthy and complex process, depending on your circumstances.

If, for example, you and/or your spouse are high net worth individuals with international assets and investments, then the divorce process could take much longer, as your financial settlement could be far from straightforward.

On the other hand, if your financial situation is relatively simple and you and your spouse reach an agreement early on in the divorce process, you could find your divorce could only take a few months.

How can I speed up my divorce?

As you can see, answering the question ‘how long does a divorce take in the UK?’ really depends on your individual circumstances.

Seeking legal advice is highly recommended so that you can make sure you don’t make any errors on your divorce papers, as this could slow down the process.

In addition, it’s normally recommended that you attempt to reach an agreement about the reason for your divorce before submitting the divorce petition. This way, it’s less likely that there will be unnecessary delays further down the line. A solicitor should be able to advise you if this is appropriate in your circumstances.

Finally, make sure to file all of your paperwork on time.

Can I get a divorce?

In England and Wales, you can get a divorce if all the following are true:

  • You’ve been married for at least a year
  • Your relationship has irreparably broken down
  • Your marriage is legally recognised
  • The UK is yours or your partner’s permanent home

What are the grounds for divorce?

If you want to get a divorce, you’ll have to prove that your marriage has permanently broken down; this involves citing at least one of the following reasons:

Adultery

Your partner has had sex with someone else; you’ll only be able to cite this as a reason if you file for divorce within six months of finding out.

Unreasonable behaviour

This can include things like physical violence, verbal abuse, alcohol or drug-related issues, refusing to contribute financially to living expenses and more.

Desertion

To cite this, your partner must have left you for at least two years before you apply.

You’ve been separated for two years

If you’ve been separated for at least two years and you both agree to the divorce, you’ll be able to cite this as a reason.

You’ve been separated for five years

If you’ve been separated for at least five years, you can cite this as a reason regardless of whether your partner agrees.

Contact our expert divorce solicitors for advice

For more information call our divorce solicitors on 0333 311 0925 or email mail@austinkemp.co.uk.

Our expert family law solicitors offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available in order to have face-to-face client meetings and conferences as and when required in:

Please contact us for more details.

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10th December 2021

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