How Long Does A Divorce Take in the UK?
Divorce  |  Family law  |  Marriage

How long does a divorce take in the UK?

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Walker Family Law
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Anyone involved in, or contemplating, divorce proceedings will obviously want it over as quickly as possible.

How Long Does A Divorce Take in the UK?

It is therefore unsurprising that one of the first questions that a divorce lawyer is asked by a new client is: how long will the divorce take? And with the divorce rate rising, the question is asked even more frequently!

The answer to the question, as with so many things, is not entirely straightforward, as it depends upon whether we are referring to the divorce procedure, or to the wider picture, including any financial settlement connected with the divorce. In this article, we explore the process to give a little more context & understanding to the question how long does a divorce take in the UK?

What is the no-fault divorce procedure in the UK?

Since the advent of no-fault divorce last year, the time required to complete the divorce procedure itself can be stated quite clearly, as the system is based around set time periods.

The divorce is commenced by an application to the court, accompanied by a statement by the applicant or the applicant and the other spouse that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

This starts the ‘divorce clock’ running.

The first period stipulated by the system is twenty weeks from the start of the proceedings. Nothing more can be done in connection with the divorce procedure during this period, although the time can most certainly be used to sort out arrangements for any children and finances after the divorce.

The basic idea behind the twenty week period is that it be used as a ‘period for reflection’, during which the parties can decide whether they really wish to go through with the divorce.

If they do wish to go ahead then after twenty weeks have elapsed the applicant or applicants may confirm to the court that they wish the application to continue.

The court will then make a conditional divorce order.

This will then trigger the second, and final, time period in the divorce procedure.

Before the applicant(s) can apply to have the divorce finalised they must wait for a further six weeks to elapse after the making of the conditional order. Only then may they give notice to the court that they wish the conditional order to be made final.

When the court receives a notice it will make the conditional order final, if it is satisfied that there is no reason not to do so.

Typically, how long does a divorce take in the UK?

The divorce procedure will therefore take a minimum of twenty-six weeks, or six months, from start to finish. (Obviously the actual time will depend upon how quickly the parties, and the court, deal with each step of the procedure.)

There is one other thing to say about the procedure: If only one party applied for the divorce and they do not apply for the final order then the other party may apply for it, but only after the expiration of three months from the earliest date on which the applicant could have made such an application. Obviously this would take the minimum time for the divorce up to nine months.

Why the divorce may take longer

All of the above relates to the divorce procedure itself. But there is another factor: the financial settlement.

For reasons that we will not go into here it is normally advisable not to apply for the divorce to be finalised until the financial settlement has been sorted out, and a court order made setting out the settlement.

And sorting out the financial settlement could take considerably longer than six months, especially if matters cannot be agreed and the court has to decide upon the settlement, following the making of a financial remedies application.

It is possible to make a financial remedies application at any time after the divorce is issued, but the application may take a long time to be resolved, depending upon various factors, including whether the parties can reach agreement, and how quickly the court can deal with the matter.

In one recently reported case a contested financial remedies application took fourteen months to be dealt with by the court. That is a fairly typical timescale for a contested application, although some cases take even longer.

So the answer to the original question is: if there is no financial settlement to be sorted out, or if it has already been sorted out, then the divorce should take a little over six months. If the settlement has not been sorted out, it could take much longer.

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce, child law, and arbitration. For expert advice, please contact the team.