Understanding The Divorce Process In The UK?

Here at The Divorce Surgery, we are regularly contacted by couples who know they want to get a divorce and are looking to do so in the most affordable, efficient and amicable way possible. Now, divorce is a process most separating couples have not been through before, and on the face of it can seem intimidating. That’s why the couples who approach us usually do so with a number of questions they would like answered.

One of the most pertinent questions we are asked is ‘how long does a divorce take in the UK?’ The simple answer is ‘it depends’, with some divorces finalised in as little as three months and others running into several years.

To provide you with a clearer understanding of the whole process, as well as a better idea of how long a divorce takes, we’ve written this post.

The first thing to understand is that the divorce process is separated into three separate parts: the petition (which is how you change your legal status), the division of finances and child arrangements.

The Petition

The first step of the divorce process is the petition. This is where one of the parties (the petitioner) applies for a divorce, either online or via post (in England and Wales).

There is a one-off fee of £550 to pay to the government, but that’s all that is needed to effectively get the ball rolling.

[Related reading: How To File A Divorce Petition]

The petitioner must state that the marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and reference one of five reasons:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Separated for at least two years and both parties agree to the divorce
  • Separated for at least five years and one party wants a divorce (even if the other disagrees).

Once the petition has been submitted, you will need to wait for it to be processed. Depending on the number of applications being dealt with, this can take some time – as long as 3-6 months, which is why it is important to file the petition as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, the other party in the marriage (now referred to as the respondent) will subsequently receive a copy of the papers and an ‘Acknowledgement of Service’ form, which they should complete and return within 8 days.

The respondent has three options:

  • Agree to the divorce
  • Defend the divorce (not agree to it)
  • Outline their position regarding any claim for costs (where applicable)

If the respondent agrees to the divorce petition the next step is to apply for a Decree Nisi – a document that basically says the court does not see any reason why you cannot divorce.

In fact, even if the respondent defends the divorce petition you can still apply for a Decree Nisi. However, in such defended divorce cases a court hearing will need to be listed so that a judge can decide whether or not one of the grounds of divorce has been proven and whether to grant the Decree Nisi.

It is important to note that you will still be legally married even after the Decree Nisi has been granted and will need to wait 43 days (six weeks and one day) before you can apply for a Decree Absolute – the legal document that officially ends your marriage.

The time between the issuing of the Decree Nisi and the Decree Absolute is when most couples finalise the division of finances and arrangements for their children (often they will have been in discussions around these issues for some time by that stage).

The Division of Finances

In England and Wales, the aim of the Courts is to ensure a fair outcome between the couple which meets each of their financial needs, and the needs of their children, after marriage. No two divorce scenarios are the same and the exact division of finances will depend on a number of factors, which could lead inevitably to one party receiving a greater share.

It is paramount that you and your spouse agree on how your finances and assets will be divided, as well as make those arrangements legally binding by way of a court order before you apply for a decree absolute. The Divorce Surgery can help you with this stage, explaining any legal jargon and advising you what a Court would view as the fairest outcome.

[Related reading: Spousal Maintenance: How Much & How Long Will It Last?]

Arrangements for Children

When it comes to your children, any arrangements you agree do not need to be set out in a court order (unlike agreements in respect of your finances). This is because the court will usually accept that what both parents agree is in the best interest of the children almost certainly is, so there is no need for a court order.

[Related reading: What Are Child Arrangements?]

Between you and your partner, you must decide:

  • Where the children will live
  • How much time they will spend with each parent
  • How you will financially support your children

A Parenting Plan is often drawn up to outline what both parties have agreed and detail the responsibilities of each parent. Again, we can help you with this stage, advising you together and impartially.

Speeding Up The Divorce Process

While the divorce petition process itself is relatively straightforward in the majority of cases and shouldn’t (in theory) take that much time to complete, delays often occur when couples start discussing how their finances should be settled and what arrangements should be put in place for their children.

This is why it is so important to start considering these factors at the earliest stage. You can start discussing your financial arrangements and the arrangements for your children at any point, regardless of whether you have issued a divorce petition. Our view is the sooner couples know what a Court would consider fair, the sooner they will understand what’s expected of them and resolve any differences they may have.

If at all possible you should:

  • Reach an agreement with your spouse on the grounds for divorce before submitting your petition.
  • Be prompt with your paperwork – File your petition in good time and request that the respondent swiftly completes and returns any court documents they receive.
  • Be thorough with your paperwork and not make any mistakes – Mistakes will cause unnecessary delays, so be sure to read through everything more than once and/or have a friend check.
  • Take advantage of a service like ours to agree on the division of finances and arrangements for your children in the most affordable, amicable and efficient way possible, and ensure any agreement as to your finances is formalised in a court order before you apply for your decree absolute.

So back to the original question – ‘how long does a divorce take in the UK?’…

As you can see, the length of time really does depend on a number of factors, but a good rule of thumb is that if both parties are in agreement with the divorce and agree to the division of finances and arrangements for children, the whole process can take as little as three months to finalise from start to finish (providing each stage is processed efficiently, without delays). Our service at The Divorce Surgery takes on average 6-8 weeks, and we would recommend couples come to us as early in the process as possible, to align expectations and negotiate constructively.


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 contact@thedivorcesurgery.co.uk.


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

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