How long does a divorce take in the UK?

How long does a divorce take? The answer depends on several factors, from complicated assets to busy courts. Here’s what you can expect.

A divorce in the UK will take at least six months.

This is because of two waiting periods in the divorce process.

To begin with, there’s a 20-week ‘cooling-off’ period between the divorce application and when you can apply for the conditional order.

Then there’s a six-week waiting period between the conditional order being granted and when you can apply for the final order.

On top of this, there are several other things that can affect the length of a divorce, from having complicated financial affairs to how busy the courts are.

As a rule of thumb, you can expect it to take about a year to get divorced and reach a financial settlement.


Stage 1: The divorce application

The first stage of the divorce process is sending your divorce application to the court.

On the divorce petition, you’ll need to provide:

  • Your full name and address

  • Your spouse’s full name and address

  • Proof of your marriage certificate


You can make the application by yourself as the sole applicant or together with your spouse as joint applicants.

If you make the application by yourself, your spouse will be known as the respondent.

It costs £593 to apply for divorce. You can share the cost with your spouse if you make a joint application.

You can apply for divorce online or send the application through the post. Applying online will usually mean your divorce application will be processed more quickly.  


Stage 2: The acknowledgement of service

What happens after you apply depends on whether you apply jointly with your spouse or on your own.

If you apply by yourself, your spouse will receive an acknowledgement of service form that they must return within 14 days before you can move onto the next stage.

The process is slightly different if you apply jointly.

Instead, you’ll both receive a copy of the divorce application as well as an ‘acknowledgement receipt’. You don’t need to respond to this.

This means that a joint divorce application will probably move more quickly than a sole application. But it still depends upon how busy the court is.


Stage 3: The cooling off period

Once you receive the acknowledgement receipt, or the respondent returns the acknowledgement of service form, your application enters a 20 week ‘cooling off’ period.

The cooling off period is designed to help you reflect on your divorce and encourage you to discuss financial matters and child arrangements with your spouse.

Once the 20 weeks has passed, you can move onto the next stage of the divorce by applying for a conditional order.

Stage 3: Apply for the conditional order

The conditional order is the first of the two court orders that make up the divorce process, along with the final order. They have replaced the old court orders, the decree nis and the decree absolute.

While they work in roughly the same way, there are differences. Importantly, if your divorce began before 6 April 2022, you’ll be subject to the old divorce laws. So, you’ll have to apply for a decree nis and a decree absolute instead.

For more information, read our guide: What is a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute?

If your divorce began after 6 April 2022, you’ll need to apply for a conditional order.

The conditional order is a certificate that says the court sees no reason why you can’t get divorced.

You can only apply for a conditional order 20 weeks after the court has considered your divorce application.

Once the 20 weeks have passed, you can apply for the conditional order online or through the post.


Provided the form is filled out correctly, you and your spouse will both be sent a ‘Certificate of Entitlement’ that tells you when the conditional order will be granted. This can take several weeks to arrive.

It’s important to remember that you’ll still be married once you get the conditional order. It’s simply confirming that you can get divorced in principle.
 

Stage 4: Apply for the final order

Six weeks and one day after getting the conditional order, you can apply for the final order.

This is the last stage of the divorce process and formally ends your marriage.

While the final order legally ends your marriage, leaving you free to marry, it doesn’t end your financial commitments to your ex-partner. Instead, you’ll need to make a financial order to separate your financial obligations.

It’s best to separate your finances before applying for the final order. Otherwise, your ex-spouse could make a claim against your estate.

Sorting out divorce finances

Sorting out the financial settlement – who gets what from the marital assets – is often the most difficult part of a divorce.

It’s important to remember that the financial settlement is dealt with separately from divorce. So, you could be legally divorced, but still have financial commitments to your spouse.

The quickest way to sort out your finances is to agree in advance with our spouse how you’ll split your assets. You can then make the agreement legally binding by applying to the court for a financial order.

This can take anywhere from six months to a year to finalise.


Agreeing child arrangements

The same principle for dealing with the financial settlement applies for agreeing on arrangements for your children.

If you have children, you’ll need to decide where they’ll live and how you’ll share parenting duties with your spouse.

It’s best if you can come to an agreement privately with your spouse.

Using mediation for a faster divorce

Reaching a financial settlement and agreeing on arrangements for children is what usually most slows a divorce down.

Your divorce will go much faster if you can decide these things privately with your spouse.

If you’re unable to reach an agreement, you’ll need to rely on a judge to decide for you. This will delay your divorce as you’ll have to wait for an available court date. So, you should try to work out an agreement privately if you want a faster divorce.

Ideally, you should agree on the details of your divorce before you file the divorce petition. But this isn’t always possible. And it can become even more difficult once divorce proceedings have started.

If you’re struggling to reach an agreement with your spouse, you can try mediation.

Mediation involves you and your spouse meeting a trained, neutral ‘mediator’ who helps you through the issues you need to solve.

They won’t tell you what to do. Instead, they’ll help you work together to find solutions that suit you both. This helps to keep the process from dragging on for months, as well as make it as amicable as possible.


Talk to a divorce solicitor

If you want to make your divorce as quick as possible, you should talk to a divorce solicitor.

A divorce solicitor will help you to avoid any mistakes that can cause unnecessary delays, as well as help you deal with any unexpected problems.

The Law Superstore lets you compare divorce solicitors near you – completely free.


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Adam Rivers

Adam creates supportive, easy to read guides for The Law Superstore. He specialises in family law, helping people through divorce, child custody arrangements, and other relationship issues.