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Is Six Months Too Long for a Divorce to be Finalised?

18 February 2019

The current average timescale for an undisputed divorce to be finalised is approximately 20-24 weeks. This timeframe encompasses the following steps:

  1. Complete and file a Divorce Petition. The court will then send it to the respondent spouse for them to complete and file the Acknowledgement of Service. On average, this step can take about 6 weeks.
  2. Obtain Decree Nisi. The court considers the contents of the divorce petition and decides whether the marriage has broken down ‘irretrievably’. Assuming that the court approves the petition and will pronounce the Decree Nisi. On average, this step can take about 8 -12 weeks.
  3. Apply for Decree Absolute. This is a document from court, confirming that the divorce is completed. It is not possible to apply for the Decree Absolute until at least 6 weeks and 1 day after the Decree Nisi has been granted. However, there is no time limit by which the petitioner must apply for Decree Absolute. If the petitioner takes no action, then the respondent may apply for Decree Absolute 4 and a half months after the Decree Nisi has been granted.

There is no requirement to have resolved any financial issues before obtaining decree absolute.

A Government consultation in the last quarter of 2018 suggested that a minimum six-month period should be imposed between obtaining the Decree Nisi and applying for Decree Absolute. The Ministry of Justice said 'We think this allows a sufficient period for most couples to consider the implications of divorce and reach agreement on practical arrangements, while not being so long a period of uncertainty that it would have a long-term effect on children.'

The Bar Council responded to the consultation by highlighting the negative impact this proposal could have on spouses that ‘do not have children’ or ‘have straightforward financial affairs’. They have also suggested that the proposal does not take into account the fact that spouses are likely to have taken time to consider their positions prior to filing a divorce petition, meaning that it is unnecessary for the government to impose this additional time to ‘consider the implications of divorce.’ For such parties, it could be argued that there is already too much delay within the current process and there is a necessity to make obtaining a divorce more straightforward and efficient. If a couple has taken the decision to divorce, then there may be considerable animosity and unhappiness between the parties, making it unconstructive to delay the process of them legally ending their marriage.

It remains to be seen what, if any, changes the Government will make to divorce law, but in the meantime, if you require advice surrounding the current law on marriage, divorce, cohabitation, separation and/or children please contact Ellisons Family Team on 01206 764477 or 01255 851000. We offer a fixed fee initial appointment for an hour for £150 (inc VAT) and a follow up letter of advice.