Advice Centre

How Long Does A Divorce Take?

How Long Does A Divorce Take?

The length of the divorce process depends on whether the divorce is straight-forward or complex.

Straightforward divorce

If you have the original marriage certificate and the address for your spouse then matters should be straightforward from that point. If your spouse responds promptly when asked by the court then the divorce process is usually between four to six months*.

Complex divorce

A divorce might appear to be straightforward at the beginning, your spouse may have informed you that they are happy to agree, however, if your spouse then changes their mind, decides not to return their acknowledgment of service form back from the court, evades service of the court papers and wishes to either defend the petition or the costs of the divorce, then this will mean that the usual four to six months can take much longer and could be more than twelve months.  

Factors That Influence How A Long Divorce Takes

Factors Influencing How Long A Divorce Takes

1) Having the correct details for your spouse

If you are unsure of the address of your spouse and issue the petition in the hope that it will reach them, this will inevitably cause delay. It is advisable to have their exact details from the beginning so that your solicitor can write to them and send them the draft petition.

Your spouse can respond to confirm that they agree, provide their consent (if the divorce is based on adultery or two years separation with consent),  making the process effective and saves you time.

2) Whether your spouse agrees to the divorce

When your spouse receives the divorce papers from court they need to sign and return their acknowledgment of service form. If they do not agree to the divorce they can defend the petition and then they will need to file their reasons within 21 days.

Usually when a party defends the petition the court will schedule a court hearing to make a decision and this can extend the divorce process and can incur additional fees for the parties attendance and their legal representatives.

3) The ‘fact’ of the divorce and if you have grounds to divorce

If you are unable to satisfy the court that you should be granted a divorce by using one of the following facts then your divorce may be rejected:

  • Adultery- the respondent has committed adultery and the Petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent.
  • Behavior- the Respondent has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent.
  • Desertion- the Respondent has deserted the Petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.
  • Separated for 2 years and consent- the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and the respondent consents.
  • Separated for 5 years- the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least give years immediately preceding the petition.

You may be aware of the recent case of Owens v Owens. In this case the wife petitioner for a divorce in May 2015. She relied on the second fact above, her husband’s “behaviour”.  She argued that the behaviour was such that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him anymore. Her husband defended the petition.

The judge decided that the behaviour the wife had stated in her petition we exaggerated and found no behaviour that she could not reasonably be expected to live with. The petition was dismissed and the wife appealed the decision.

Upon appeal the Supreme Court did not overturn the decision of the lower court.  The result of the court’s decision was that the wife would have to wait and apply under the fact of 5 years separation without her husband’s consent; the earliest the wife can present her petition based on this fact in 2020.   

4) Waiting for the financial matter to be resolved before applying to finalise the divorce

Whilst during your divorce you may need to also make decisions about the finances of the marriage of the child arrangements, the court does not automatically make decisions on these issues during the divorce.

As such, depending on individual circumstances, it may be advisable to delay making an application for the last stage of the divorce,  Decree Absolute until this has been resolved either by a consent order between the parties or by eventual order of the court.  Depending on how long it takes you and your spouse to reach a decision of for court proceedings to resolve this issue, this may mean that your divorce proceedings will be extended.

If no final order is made on financial issues it will be open to either party to apply to the court for a financial order at any time even after the decree has been made absolute and the parties are divorced.

5) Additional applications

If your spouse does not return their acknowledgment of service form back to the court then you may need to make an additional application(s) to the court to enable your divorce to be granted or take alternative steps such as the below:

  • Service by a court bailiff
  • Service by an enquiry agent
  • Service abroad, through the Foreign Process Section
  • Application for deemed service to show that your spouse has received the papers
  • Application to dispense with service; this is an application when all steps to serve your spouse have been exhausted.

As mentioned above, you will need to bear in mind how quickly a court can deal with your application. It is sometimes advisable to use an enquiry agent rather than the court bailiff as they will have a higher level of flexibility in being able to attend at your spouse’s address.

Case Example

Divorce Proceedings

We acted for a wife in divorce proceedings in the UK.

The parties had married in Poland in 1989.  By the time they came to divorce had been married for 26 years and had been living apart for five years.  The spouse had also formed a new relationship, was cohabiting and wanted to move on with her life.

Whilst the spouse was habitually resident in England and was eligible to issue divorce proceedings in the UK, her husband was living in another country, Poland and this raised issues such as service of the divorce petition abroad.

As the respondent did not return his acknowledgment of service form back to to the court, we arranged for an international agent to deliver a copy of the divorce petition to his home address in Poland. However this option was not without its own issues and the respondent did not answer the door to the international agent. The agent was told that the respondent was out at work and that a relative would inform the respondent that service had been attempted. 

Following this attempt we sent a letter to the respondent at the address in Poland, by recorded delivery, and it was returned to our office.

Given the above difficulties an application was made to the court to dispense with service of the petition in that all possible options of serving the respondent had been exhausted.  However before the court could grant the application it wanted confirmation as to whether the client had tried the following:

  • Contacted the respondent on his mobile or email address;
  • Carried out searched on social media websites including Facebook to see whether service by Facebook Messenger could be a viable option.

We confirmed to the court that the client did not have a mobile number or email address of the respondent. We also confirmed that search of Linked In and Facebook were undertaken and the respondent appeared to be on the social media platform.

Following an approved application for the petition to be served on Facebook the court confirmed that once completed the petition would deem to have been served 48 hours after service.

The above order  of the court enabled the client to go on to apply for the middle stage of the divorce proceedings, Decree Nisi. The client finally obtained a Decree Absolute in May 2019.

Typical Timeframe For A Divorce

The divorce process is as follows:

  • Prepare your petition and send the court
  • The court issues your petition and sends it to your spouse. They have 14 days to return the acknowledgment of service form.
  • Once the acknowledgment  form is received you can apply for Decree Nisi
  • You can then apply for Decree Absolute, the final stage, after a period of six weeks and one day from the Decree Nisi.

Our Divorce Solicitors Can Help

Divorce Solicitors

We estimate that without any complications divorce proceedings in England and Wales should take between four to six months without any delays on the court’s part. However, when a respondent lives abroad or evades service or has subsequently moved address, the process can take a lot longer.

However what the above case study proves is that at IMD we explore all options to overcome these complex international divorce cases and even though the international divorce process takes longer than planned, we have success in obtaining the required outcome; in this case a divorce when  a spouse lives in another country.

Contact Our Divorce Solicitors

For further information, please contact Iwona Durlak in the family law team on 0330 107 0107 or arrange a call back.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

*Due to the financial constraints of the court, closures and significant backlogs, the process can take much longer than six months as the court’s estimated time for processing each individual application can be between 7 days to three months.

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