How Long Does A Divorce Take?

When a marriage breaks down, starting the divorce process can be daunting. It can seem like there is a lot of confusing information about what needs to be done and how long it might take. Divorces vary in length, and can take as long as 18 months to two years.  This blog will set out the process in some detail and explain how The Divorce Surgery can help to cut both time and costs.

There are essentially three parts to a divorce that couples need to deal with. These are:

  • The petition. This is the part that legally changes your status from married to divorced
  • Division of your finances
  • Arrangements for any children.

The Petition

This first part of this article deals with the petition. You can start your petition either online or on paper and there is a government fee of £550. One party must be the petitioner and start the process, and the other party will be the respondent.

The petitioner must state that the relationship has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and use one of five reasons, or ‘facts’, in order to prove this. Those ‘facts’ are:

  • Separated for two years, with consent
  • Separated for five years, without consent
  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion.

You can find more information on the ground and reasons for divorce in England and Wales here:

Once you have submitted your petition, you must wait to hear back. In England and Wales all divorce petitions are processed in Bury St Edmunds and, unfortunately, they often have a severe backlog.

Once your petition has been processed, a copy of the papers and an ‘acknowledgment of service’ will be sent to your spouse and they will need to respond. Your spouse will have three options:

  • Agree with the divorce
  • Defend the divorce
  • Object to paying the costs (if you have claimed this)
  • Your spouse will need to respond to this within 8 days.

If Your Spouse Agrees With The Divorce

Decree Nisi

In most cases, couples agree to getting divorced and the respondent spouse will return the ‘acknowledgment of service’ agreeing. (Note you do not need to agree the reasons, and often spouses will reserve their position and reserve the right to contest particulars of unreasonable behaviour if they are raised in other litigation, for instance surrounding child arrangements or division of the finances). Once the acknowledgment of service has been processed the petitioner is then able to apply for a Decree Nisi, which is the document that says the court does not see any reason why you cannot divorce. When you apply for this, you must complete a statement that confirms your divorce petition was true and is based on the reason you gave for your divorce.

If the judge agrees, you and your spouse will receive your Decree Nisi certificate. It is at this point that couples will seek court approval for any agreement they have reached on their finances, before applying for a Decree Absolute.

Decree Absolute

This is the legal document that confirms you are legally divorced. Until this point you are still legally married. You can apply for the Decree Absolute 43 days after the date of your Decree Nisi. You must be careful not to leave it too late, as it cannot be later than 12 months after.

It is important to know that any legally binding agreements on your finances must be approved by a Judge and contained in a consent order sealed by the Court before you apply for a Decree Absolute. If you leave it until after your Decree Absolute, you will no longer be married, and this can have a huge implications, particularly in respect of pensions: if one of you dies before a court order is made sharing your pension but after Decree Absolute you then lose your entitlement to a spousal pension.

It is important to keep your Decree Absolute certificate safe as you may need it to prove your divorced status in the future.

If You Don’t Agree

Although it is rare, sometimes a spouse upon receiving the petition will not agree to the divorce. If your spouse defends the divorce, they will have to fill in an ‘answer to divorce’ form explaining why they disagree. They will have 28 days to do this. If they do not do this – you can apply for the Decree Nisi anyway and follow the process outlined above.

If your spouse does send in a response setting out why they disagree with the divorce within the time limits, you may have to go to court, where a Judge will determine whether the contents of your divorce petition justify a Decree Nisi. This is extremely rare and will become otiose once no fault divorce is introduced.

Arrangements For Finances And/Or Children

Whilst you are petitioning for divorce, you will need to think about making and formalising arrangements for your finances and children. It is essential to make your financial arrangements legally binding before you apply for a Decree Absolute. Arrangements for your children don’t have to be legally binding, as the Court takes the view in children proceedings that if parents agree what is best for their children then there is no need for a court order at all. Many couples choose to take some legal advice to understand the legal landscape and then complete a written parenting plan to record what they have agreed. You can find more information on arrangements for children in our blog post here.

Agreeing the division of finances (and sometimes also the arrangements for children) is the most lengthy and costly part of the divorce process. The divorce petition, for most couples, is not the part which causes the most difficulty, and once no-fault divorce is introduced it is hoped this will be much easier for couples to navigate.

If you and your spouse don’t agree on the division of your finances or arrangements for your children, it is easy to spend an enormous amount of money on solicitors and barristers on each side, arguing in court.

Is There Another Way?

However, there are other options to this longwinded, pricey and adversarial process. The Divorce Surgery offers the One Couple One Lawyer service which can be completed in just 6-8 weeks. We advise couples together impartially of the likely outcome of their case – both in terms of finances and/or child arrangements. This means we are going straight to the final stage. An experienced impartial barrister will act how a judge would, by looking at your case and assessing the fairest outcome. This barrister will sit down with both parties in an advice session and talk through their case. This will be followed up with a 15-20 page piece of advice that the couple can use to create their own agreement. Most couples tend to follow our advice. This cuts out the need for lengthy litigation as you know the likely end decision right from the beginning. If you reach agreement, the barrister who advised you can draw up a consent order for you.

Some couples combine our services with mediation, and some have their own solicitors in the background for a second opinion. Whatever works for you works for us.

As well as offering a speedy process, The Divorce Surgery also offers the possibility of a much cheaper divorce. Whilst the hourly rate of a solicitor builds up, we offer fixed fees starting from £4,750 (plus VAT). We give you a fixed fee quote for the entire service before you commit.

Our couples are empowered to reach a fair settlement, armed with a time and money saving awareness of a realistic outcome. We encourage couples to start as they mean to continue, negotiating fairly and sensibly from day one, and looking at their situation as a Judge would.

If you have more questions about this topic or any other legal issues arising on divorce or separation, please do get in touch as we are always happy to help. You can call us on 0203 488 4475 or email

Author Name: Editor
admin Published content by The Divorce Surgery Editorial Team.

Related Posts

How Does Furlough Or Redundancy Affect Maintenance?

Divorce Doesn’t Need To Be A Battle