The length of time that a divorce (or civil partnership dissolution) will take is one of the questions we are most frequently asked at an early stage. The answer depends on a number of factors, and we set out some things to consider below when you’re trying to work out which timescales might apply in your circumstances. As with all things family law-related, as regular readers will know, there is no definitive answer.
The first thing to say is that it actually doesn’t take that long to get divorced. An undefended divorce petition can get through the court in the space of 3-4 months if all paperwork is filed promptly and the court is being efficient. Even with the requirement to wait 6 weeks after decree nisi (the penultimate stage) to apply for the decree absolute that will finally end the marriage, the process can be completed in 6 months without anyone having actually to attend court. See our divorce factsheet here for more detailed information.
However, the key thing to remember is that a divorce itself does not sort out any questions relating to children, money or property. Putting children aspects to one side for a moment, it’s always sensible to get some advice on the effect of a divorce on your financial position and to obtain an order (a ‘consent order’) from the court that either reflects the financial arrangements that you and your ex have agreed, or records that neither of you will claim anything from the other. This needn’t delay the final divorce at all as it can be drawn up quickly and presented to the court for an order to be made at any time after decree nisi is pronounced, so long as you are both agreed on what will happen.
Without such an order, there is the possibility that either of you could seek to obtain a financial adjustment from the other at a later date. Another issue is that once you cease to be a spouse, there could be benefits from insurance or pension policies in the other person’s name that you lose access to. As a result, there may be reasons to seek to delay the grant of decree absolute and the final end of the marriage until you’ve worked out what this might mean and what, if anything, should be done.
If it’s not possible for the two of you to agree what should happen financially at the end of your marriage, there are various options to look at. All are likely in practical terms to delay the end of your marriage while the details are worked out, but some perhaps for longer than others. The two important factors that most influence the speed of the process are commitment and attitude. The more work you both put into sorting out your difference of opinion, and the more co-operative and businesslike you can be about the process keeping emotion at bay as far as possible, the quicker your resolution – and therefore your divorce – is likely to come. Usually, the longer it takes, the more expensive it is, so there are added benefits to seeking a swift outcome.
In our experience, former couples who commit to resolving their disputes through collaborative law, mediation or arbitration, where they are involved in every aspect of their process and are responsible for its timing, can get to a settlement more quickly (as long as the process is successful!). Those whose are not able to, or do not wish to, use these alternatives to court (and you have a chance to find out about them at the compulsory mediation information meeting – MIAM – you must attend before filing proceedings at court) are less in control of the timescale because the court takes over. It is up to the court to fit in and schedule the necessary hearings, and there is a strict timetable leading up to court appointments that dictates when information must be completed, filed and exchanged. There is simply less flexibility.
Despite the well-known pressure on the family courts, the early stages of the court process in financial matters on divorce still tend to mean a first hearing before a judge within 3 or 4 months of filing an application. (If you want to know what the court process on finances entails, take a look at our factsheet here.) The real problem comes at the later stages when and if it’s necessary to find extended court time for a final hearing to determine what the outcome should be; the delays here mean that in a complex case it can take around 12-18 months in some courts for the trial to be held, after which there may be a wait for the judge’s decision. During this time, it may not be possible to finalise your divorce. It is of course possible to settle the dispute at any time even when the court process is underway – very few cases go so far as a final hearing.
Turning now to children matters, in most cases these are unlikely to delay the progress of a divorce because the law that applies to children is largely unconnected to the marital status of the parents, and more concerned with the legal concept of parental responsibility and the best interests of the children. In most cases, although resolving differences over children’s future arrangements may be a significant factor in your divorce both in terms of emotional and practical impact, the legal position is largely separate, in contrast with finances. There are few reasons to delay a divorce because of children matters (although you should seek advice that relates to your own circumstances).
How long does it take to get divorced? Well, it depends. If you’d like to come in and talk to us about your situation, give us a call on 01223 443333 to make an appointment with Sue, Adam, Gail or Simon.