When you’re facing something as difficult as the end of a marriage, it’s normal to want as much information as possible about what’s ahead. Divorce might be a common experience but the facts and stats aren’t always widely discussed, which can leave you feeling worried about the future. Finding out how long a divorce takes and what it might involve can help you to mentally prepare for the process and get an idea about what the next several months of your life might look like.

man signing divorce papers

As of 2020, the average length for the divorce process in the UK is approximately 53 weeks from the first petition to receiving a decree absolute. However, this can vary with the complexity of the divorce.

This time frame also does not take into account any negotiations or preparations made before one of the parties officially applied for a divorce.

You might have seen sensational news stories of divorces taking upwards of 15 years to finalise, but these cases are extremely rare. Even in situations where the divorce is contested or there are complex financial or childcare negotiations, a year or two is the upper limit for most cases.

What can make divorce proceedings faster?

Typically, couples divorcing under the following circumstances can expect their proceedings to move more quickly than those who are not.

  • Couples without children or dependents
  • Couples with an existing prenuptial or nuptial agreement
  • Couples where neither party owns residential property
  • Couples who have agreed on an uncontested divorce

However, even couples who meet some of these criteria may end up waiting longer than they expect. This is particularly if there is some complexity in their finances (for example, if a party fails to disclose an asset) or if they are unable to come to an agreement without the intervention of a court.

What can I do to speed up the divorce process?

A few things you can personally do to help the divorce process to run as smoothly as possible include:

  • Ensuring paperwork is filled out promptly and accurately
  • Coming to an agreement on the grounds of divorce with your spouse before applying
  • Applying for divorce online rather than through the post
  • Gathering and submitting documents by the appropriate deadlines
  • Using mediation or collaborative law to agree on settlements without going through the courts

While all of these can help to move the process along, delays can come from slowly processed paperwork, unexpected conflicts, or a myriad of other reasons. Because of this, it is unwise to trust legal professionals who promise a divorce in weeks.

It is reasonable to want this stressful time to be finished quickly. However, it is important for your wellbeing to focus on the elements that you have some control over, rather than the actions of your spouse or the courts.

The time for reflection built into the divorce process can also have the benefit of giving both parties some distance from emotionally fraught issues, helping to keep negotiations productive and dignified. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by divorce proceedings, legal assistance can help to give you peace of mind or you might find it helpful to speak to a counsellor.

What steps are necessary for a divorce and how long do they take?

  1. Check whether you can get divorced

To have a divorce in England or Wales, you must meet the following criteria.

  • You must have been married for at least a year
  • Your relationship must have permanently broken down
  • The UK should be the permanent home of at least one of the parties
  • Your marriage must be legally recognised in the UK

The guidelines in Scotland have some differences

  1. Decide on your grounds for divorce

To demonstrate that your relationship has broken down, you should refer to one of 5 “facts” as grounds for divorce.

  • Your spouse committed adultery
  • Your spouse displayed behaviour that makes it unreasonable for you to continue to live with them
  • Your spouse deserted you at least 2 years before the application
  • You have been separated for at least two years and both wish to divorce
  • You have been separated for at least 5 years and you wish to divorce

A common reason for delays in divorce is a dispute over the grounds of divorce. Where blame is being assigned, there can be high emotions and conflict, particularly if it comes as a surprise with the divorce papers. For this reason, we recommend that both parties come to an agreement if possible before the application is submitted.

A new system for no-fault divorces is due to be introduced in 2022. We will cover this in a later section.

  1. Negotiate Child and Financial Arrangements

These are often the lengthiest steps in a divorce.

We help clients to settle these matters out of court as much as possible. This can help to reduce the emotional toll on all parties and preserve family relationships, as well as save time and money.

These negotiations can be supported through mediation, the assistance of solicitors and the advice of other experts such as property surveyors.

ex partners shaking hands after agreeing on divorce

  1. Apply for divorce

(Approximately 6 weeks)

The next stage is filling in your divorce petition. To complete this, you will need the address of your spouse and a copy of your marriage certificate. Alongside your application, you will need to pay a fee of £593.You will also need to cite the grounds of divorce you decided on.

The divorce petition will be processed and a copy will be sent to your spouse. If you’re using adultery as your grounds for divorce, the other person involved in the affair may also be sent a copy.

This can take up to 10 days if you filed for divorce online or 1 month if you applied through the postal system.

Your spouse should respond within 7 days with an acknowledgement of service confirming whether they wish to agree to the divorce or object to paying any costs. If they wish to defend the divorce, they must submit an “Answer” form within a further 21 days.

If they do not respond, proceedings may be delayed but there are a few options you can choose from, including taking further action through the court.

  1. Decree Nisi

(Approximately 8 weeks.)

A Decree Nisi does not end your marriage but states that the court sees no reason why you should not divorce. Once you’ve applied for a decree, the judge will consider your case. If they agree to grant the Decree Nisi, a certificate will be sent to you and your spouse, although this might take several weeks.

You will then need to wait at least 43 days before applying to finalise the divorce.

  1. Decree Absolute

(Approximately 3 weeks)

A Decree Absolute is the document which shows that your marriage has legally come to an end.  You can apply for it 6 weeks and one day (or more) after your Decree Nisi is pronounced and it commonly takes between two and three weeks to arrive.

Happy Little Girl Is Hugging Teddy Bear At Office Of divorce solicitors

How long will no-fault divorces take in the UK?

From 2022, no-fault divorces are due to come into effect in England and Wales. This will mean that, if a couple both agrees to a divorce, there will no longer be a requirement to use one of the 5 facts as proof that a marriage has broken down.

Couples will also be able to make joint divorce applications and there will be a change in terminology for Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute.

This could make divorce a quicker and simpler process for many couples. No fault divorces will remove the option of contestation and it’s hoped that they will reduce some of the time-consuming conflict caused by disagreements over the basis for divorce.

However, the changes will also come with a minimum timeframe of 20 weeks between an application and a divorce becoming finalised – which is within the current average time for the divorce process in the UK.


If you would like assistance with any step in your divorce process, our expert team of divorce solicitors in Bristol are happy to offer support and legal advice. At Harbour Family Law, we specialise in collaborative practice, helping you to come to the best resolution possible without entering into lengthy court proceedings.


The news articles and blogs contained on this website do not constitute legal advice in relation to any particular situation. While Harbour Family Law aims to ensure that the information is correct (for England & Wales) at the date on which it is added to the website, the legal position can change frequently, and content will not always be updated following any relevant changes. You therefore acknowledge and agree that Harbour Family Law Ltd accept no liability whatsoever in contract, tort or otherwise for any loss of damage caused by or arising directly or indirectly in connection with any use or reliance on the contents of our website to the extent that such liability cannot be excluded by law.