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If a divorce is straightforward, then it will generally take around four to six months to be finalised. The advent of online divorces has reduced timescales and the process is now very straightforward in most cases.  No fault divorce will be introduced from the autumn of 2021, which will bring in a fixed timescale.

Contested divorces are very unusual indeed and can take a year or more to resolve. It is possible to object to the grounds of divorce if allegations are made against you but still allow the divorce to go through, so there is rarely any reason to defend a divorce petition. In most cases where behaviour is going to be alleged, the parties agree what is to be said before the petition is issued.

Financial issues between the parties to a divorce are generally handled at the same time. These are often dealt with after an initial period of mediation and discussion between solicitors with a view to avoiding the need for court proceedings.

What are the timescales for divorce?

The first step in divorce proceedings is to instruct a solicitor to draft the grounds for a divorce petition and to see if the other party will agree. In the event of 2 or 5 years separation, that is not usually an issue. However, in the event of desertion, behaviour or adultery petitions, it can be which is why that initial communication is so important.

Once you have provided us with a clear scanned copy of your marriage certificate and the grounds are agreed, or if it is clear they cannot be agreed a divorce petition can be issued online.  This can take anything from a day up to a few weeks.

It is always quicker to lodge the divorce petition online rather than using the paper-based process.

Following on from this the courts will send a copy of the divorce petition and acknowledgement of service to the other spouse and this party then has seven days to return the acknowledgement of service to the court. They can either accept the divorce petition or contest it. The timescale from here will start to alter:

If the divorce is accepted by both parties

If the divorce is accepted then the process can immediately move to the next step.

If one party does not accept the divorce

If the other spouse does not accept the divorce petition, then they have 21 days to give their reasons. This will usually require a court hearing (or possibly more than one) where both parties attend and a judge decides whether or not to allow the divorce. This can greatly increase the time it takes for the divorce to be finalised.

If the court does not accept the divorce petition

If the courts do not accept the divorce petition, the party requesting the divorce will need to either use a different ground including waiting for sufficient time to pass.

Decree nisi

Where the spouse is not going to defend the divorce or the court has granted the right to divorce, the next step is that the court will issue a decree nisi. This is the legal documentation that shows that the courts agree that it is permissible for you to divorce. The timescale is between two and eight weeks, but will depend largely on whether or not the divorce is being defended.

Decree absolute

The party can then apply for a decree absolute from six weeks and a day after the decree nisi was pronounced in court. This is the minimum period and it can take longer. Once the decree absolute has been issued then the marriage is officially over and the divorce is official. It is usual to wait for agreement and / or a court order in respect of your finances before this is applied for.

Do the grounds for divorce impact the length of the process?

The ground that is used as the basis for the divorce will also affect how long the process will take:

  • Adultery- no further time period needs to have elapsed other than the year of marriage.
  • Unreasonable behaviour- again, only a year of marriage has to have passed.
  • Desertion- your spouse has to have left you for two out of the last two and a half years.
  • Two years separation – you have to have lived apart for 2 years and your spouse must agree to the divorce
  • Five years separation – you have to have lived apart for 5 years.

Divorce settlements

The divorce process is likely to be faster and more amicable if details can be agreed between the parties voluntarily rather than via the courts. The decree absolute ends the marriage, but it will not resolve the financial commitments that the parties may have to each other. This will need to be resolved by a divorce settlement that will decide how any joint assets will be divided including what happens to the family home, whether pensions need to be shared and if spousal or child maintenance needs to be paid to one of the parties. A divorce settlement that is agreed by both parties will be made legally binding by applying to a court for a consent order.

The divorce settlement is often the matter that complicates the situation and slows down the process. Using the courts to resolve these matters can make it more acrimonious and also increase the length of time it takes to finalise matters. It is therefore recommended where possible to use other methods to resolve these issues, such as mediation or collaborative law. Generally, these will prevent matters from escalating and typically result in agreements that both parties are happy with within a faster timeframe.

Contact our Divorce Lawyers, London

Our specialist solicitors have extensive experience in handling matters relating to all aspects of family law, including divorce. Our team offer a tailored approach for each client that explores and addresses the personal circumstances that are unique to each situation. We are members of Resolution and have adopted their code of practice. Contact us today on 020 7387 2032 or complete our online enquiry form.

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