How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in The UK?
If you have made the decision to end your marriage, it is normal to want to get the process over with as quickly as possible. Most people want to minimise the stress and potential for conflict and be able to move on swiftly, so it is understandable to be concerned about exactly how long your divorce will take.
While most straightforward divorces can be finalised in around 4-6 months, exactly how long your divorce takes will depend on a number of factors, including:
- Whether your spouse agrees to the divorce
- What grounds you use for the divorce
- How quickly you are able to reach a financial settlement and agree other details, such as arrangements for any children you have
- Whether you can agree the details of your divorce voluntarily or need to go to court for this
In this article, we will look at how these various factors can affect how long your divorce is likely to take and what you can do to help your divorce proceed as quickly as possible.
Understanding divorce timescales
There are various steps involved in getting a divorce. Knowing what they are and the time scales involved with each can give you a clearer idea of how long your divorce is likely to take overall.
How long does it take to file for divorce?
The first step to getting divorced is to send a divorce petition to your local family court. This is usually done by your divorce solicitor, who can advise you on how to correctly fill out the relevant paperwork and ensure there are no errors that could hold up your application.
Depending on how quickly you are able to arrange an appointment with your divorce lawyer, this can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
How long does it take to respond to divorce proceedings?
When one spouse files for divorce, the relevant court will notify the other spouse and they will then have 8 days to respond, either accepting the divorce petition or choosing to defend it.
If they accept the divorce, the process can then proceed straightaway to the next step. However, if they choose to defend the divorce they will have 21 days to respond with their reasons why.
If the responding spouse decides to defend the divorce, both spouses will normally need to attend a court hearing for a judge to decide whether to grant the divorce. This will then have a significant impact on how long the divorce takes, as you will have to wait for an available court date.
If your divorce petition is rejected, you may need to start the process over using different grounds or wait until you have been separated long enough to use this as grounds for divorce (see ‘how to choose the right grounds for a fast divorce’ below).
How long does a decree nisi take?
If your spouse does not defend the divorce or a judge grants you the right to divorce, you will be issued a decree nisi. This is a legal document saying the court sees no reason why you should not divorce. If the divorce is undefended, you can often get a decree nisi in about 2-4 weeks. If the divorce is defended, this can take much longer.
How long does a decree absolute take?
Once you have your decree nisi, you will need to wait at least 43 days and then you can apply for a decree absolute to finalise the divorce. Once your decree absolute has been issued, your divorce is official and your marriage is legally ended.
How long does it take to get a divorce settlement?
The process of agreeing a divorce settlement, including how your finances will be separated and what will happen to any children you have, is entirely separate to the legal process of ending your marriage. If you and your spouse can agree the details voluntarily this can take as little as a few weeks to arrange.
However, if you cannot agree the details of your divorce, you will likely need to apply to a judge to decide for you. This can take months or even years, depending on how far in the future your court hearing is set and whether either spouse decides to appeal the judge’s initial decision.
If your goal is a fast divorce, it is therefore in your interests to agree the divorce settlement voluntarily wherever this is possible without compromising your interests and those of your loved ones.
How to choose the right grounds for a fast divorce
A key thing to understand is that you will need to state your grounds for divorce in the divorce petition and that which grounds you use can have a big impact on how long it will take you to get divorced.
There are 5 acceptable grounds for divorce:
Adultery – This means your spouse must have slept with someone else of the opposite sex. Extramarital sex with someone of the same sex does not currently legally count as adultery, even for same sex marriages.
Unreasonable behaviour – This means you feel you can no longer reasonably be expected to stay married to your spouse due to their behaviour. This might include issues such as spending too much time at work or out with friends, as well as more serious problems, such as domestic violence.
Desertion – Where your spouse leaves you without good reason or agreement to end your relationship. They will need to have been gone for more than 2 years out of the past 2.5 years for this to apply.
Separation for 2 years or more – If you and your spouse have not lived as a couple for at least 2 years, you can use this as grounds for divorce if they agree to the divorce.
Separation for 5 years of more – If you and your spouse have not lived as a couple for at least 5 years, you can use this as grounds for divorce whether they agree to the divorce or not.
If your goal is to get divorced as quickly as possible, using the grounds of adultery (if applicable) or unreasonable behaviour can allow you divorce to proceed faster as there is no need to wait, unlike with the grounds of desertion or separation.
An important point to remember, however, is that if your spouse contests the divorce it will usually take longer. Therefore it is a good idea, wherever possible, to consult with them before filing the divorce petition to ensure you use grounds they will be willing to accept.
For example, most people are less likely to defend a divorce on the grounds of spending excessive amounts of time at work and lack of emotional support than if you use the grounds of adultery, especially if they dispute the details of the adultery.
Your solicitor should be able to advise you on how to choose grounds that your ex-partner will be likely to agree to and that a judge will accept as sufficient to grant you a divorce, helping to minimise the chances of any potential hold ups.
Using non-confrontational dispute resolve to get divorced faster
Your divorce will usually go much faster if you and your ex-partner can agree the details of your divorce voluntarily, rather than relying on a judge to decide for you. This is because you won’t need to wait for a court date, but can simply get on with working out a divorce settlement and other arrangements straightaway.
While any agreement reached in this way will be voluntary, you can apply for a Consent Order from a court to make the agreement legally binding. This means you can achieve a resolution faster while still having the reassurance that your former partner cannot simply change their mind later and stop honouring the agreement.
There are two main methods used for non-confrontational divorce – mediation and collaborative law. Both are usually much faster than taking your divorce through the courts, with each having different advantages depending on your circumstances.
Using mediation for divorce
This is generally the fastest and most cost-effective way to get divorced and it now the most popular option for separating couples in the UK.
The process involves both spouses meeting with a trained, neutral mediator who will guide you through the issues you need to resolve, such as deciding how to separate your finances and what arrangements you will need to make for your children.
The mediator will not tell you what you should do, but instead will encourage you to find solutions that work for both of you. They are there to facilitate the discussion and defuse any potential conflicts, helping to keep the process amicable and productive.
Mediation is the government’s preferred option for dealing with divorce and separating couples are now required to at least consider mediation before taking their divorce to a family court in most cases. You will therefore usually need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) where the process and its benefits will be explained to you, so you can decide whether mediation is right for you.
If you wish to have your divorce dealt with by a judge, you will normally need a signed form showing you attended a MIAM before proceeding. The exception to this is if mediation would clearly not be appropriate or practical, for example, if there has been domestic abuse in the relationship or one spouse now lives abroad.
Using collaborative law for divorce
Collaborative law offers an alternative to mediation and can be more appropriate if there are particularly complicated issues to resolve as the process involves both parties being supported during negotiations by their own lawyers. While this does mean collaborative law can be a bit more expensive and may take longer than mediation, it is still usually significantly faster and less expensive than court action.
Collaborative law involves both spouses meeting to negotiate the details of their divorce, each accompanied by their own lawyer (who must be trained in collaborative law). Over the course of several meetings, the four participants will discuss all of the details that need to be agreed and work together to find solutions. Other professionals, such as accountants and tax advisors, can also be consulted as part of the process where specialist expertise is needed.
Why choose Crisp & Co for your divorce?
Crisp & Co’s family law solicitors have been specialising in divorce and separation for more than 20 years. With strong expertise in all areas of family law, we can guide you through all of the issues surrounding divorce and family breakdown, including financial settlements and arrangements for children. We also have strong experience in same sex marriages and civil partnerships.
Our divorce lawyers are highly skilled in non-confrontational dispute resolution, including both mediation and collaborative law. Our team includes Resolution-trained mediators and trained collaborative lawyers, giving us the expertise you need to minimise the conflict in your divorce while protecting your interests.
Our non-confrontational approach to divorce means we are usually able to help you get divorced faster and at a lower cost compared to court action. This approach also means it is usually possible to maintain a better relationship with your former spouse which can be highly beneficial, for example, if you have children you need to continue parenting together.
Get in touch with our divorce solicitors in London & South East England
Our divorce solicitors in London, Guildford, Brighton and across the South East can help to make sure your divorce goes as quickly and smoothly as possible. With our extensive experience and focus on non-confrontational family law, we make it easier and more cost-effective to get a divorce that works for you and your loved ones.
- Henry Crisp
- Senior Partner, Solicitor & Collaborative Lawyer
- Carol Christofi
- Partner, Solicitor & Collaborative Lawyer
- Anna Clifton
- Partner & Solicitor
- Jenine Imms
- Chartered Legal Executive
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