You may have heard the phrase ‘quickie divorce’ in TV dramas and films, but in reality, there is no such thing. There are several stages to go through to legalise the decision and separate finances and property, not to mention organised custody for any children or dependents. The good news is, however, that if circumstances are straightforward and uncontested, the divorce timeline needn’t take ages and ages.
If both parties agree to the parting going ahead, this is known as an uncontested, or amicable divorce. The person who begins proceedings is called the petitioner and they will normally work with a family solicitor to sort out all the paperwork and get things underway. Amicable divorces normally take around three or four months, depending on how quickly each of the stages of divorce can be finalised.
On the other hand, if there is a lot of disagreements and issues to resolve, the divorce timeline can stretch a little longer. Issues could include:
- Children’s arrangements for living, schooling, medical decisions etc.
- Finances and the allocation of resources
- What will happen to any joint properties, vehicles etc.
- Whether there are any third parties involved, such as an extra-marital affair
- If there is, or has been violence or abuse in the union – this prevents the possibility of court appointed mediation taking place.
- Whether both parties actually want to divorce – one person may want to continue to work on the marriage or seek counselling before agreeing to a divorce
It could be six months or more before a divorce is finalised by law with a Decree Absolute certificate. Many judges ask for medication to take place, where circumstances allow, for couples who are in conflict about what they want to happen to children, finances, living arrangements and so forth.
Divorce Timeline: Stages of Divorce
Regardless of the amount of conflict or otherwise that is involved in a divorce, the process in England and Wales remains the same. First of all, the divorce petition is filed with the court by the petitioner or their solicitor. This then takes a week to ten days to process and a copy is sent to the other party, known as the respondent, along with an acknowledgement of service that they are required to fill in.
On receipt of the petition, the respondent has a further week to complete the acknowledgement of service and return it to the court. Often, this can take longer than that, so patience is required. If it is looking likely that the respondent will not reply without prompting, they are chased up by the courts, which can add some more time to the overall divorce timeline.
Happily, the most likely stage for delays like these is right at the beginning, so as soon as the acknowledgement of service is received back from the respondent, the process usually picks up pace. After around ten days, the court sends the Decree Nisi to the petitioner to complete and return. This is the first major stage accomplished, and the divorce process is now well and truly underway.
Once the court has received the completed Decree Nisi application, it will process the paperwork and work to resolve any issues that arise. Failing any significant delays, this stage takes around a month to complete. Each Decree Nisi application must be looked at by a judge to ensure legal compliance.
Once the judge has approved the application, both parties are informed and given a date for their Decree Nisi hearing. This is a set date in court when the judge will formally approve the request to divorce and address any financial, custodial or other issues arising out of the application process. It is not always necessary for the petitioner or respondent to attend this hearing as it can all be completed in their absence if the application is straightforward, if they prefer.
At the end of a successful Decree Nisi hearing, the Decree Nisi itself is granted by the court. This begins the final stage of the divorce timeline – the Decree Absolute. The petitioner must apply for this separately; it will not be granted automatically. This is a very important point, as the couple will not be formally divorced or free to remarry until this final stage is completed.
The petitioner must wait six weeks after the Decree Nisi is granted before they can apply for their Decree Absolute. The court normally then processes this part of the process quite quickly, after which the Decree Absolute certificate is sent to both parties, formally ending their union and completing their divorce.