How Long does a Divorce take?


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. This 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. It can also give you an idea about what the next several months of your life might look like.

man signing divorce papers

In the UK, the minimum period of time it can take for a divorce is 26 weeks (approximately 6 months). However, the time each individual process can take can vary with the complexity of the divorce.

This time frame also does not consider 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 there are complex financial or childcare negotiations, a year or two is the upper limit for most cases.

Both opposite and same sex couples dissolving a civil partnership can expect a similar process.

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 are on terms where they can productively discuss matters face to face
  • Couples where the length of the marriage was very brief

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
  • Communicating with your spouse about who will be involved in the application beforehand.
  • 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.

How do you start divorce proceedings?

  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. Consider who will apply for divorce

    You may be in a situation where you would prefer to handle the application yourself, but joint applications are now also an option. Either way, to maintain a positive relationship for future negotiations, it’s recommended that you communicate with your spouse on this point so that receiving notice of the divorce is not a surprise.

    If you are in a difficult financial situation, this may also be something to consider when deciding who will apply for the divorce. The court fee is currently £593, but you may be eligible for government help if you are on a low income or receive certain benefits. To receive government help for a joint application, both you and your spouse must be able to prove that you are eligible.

What are the next steps for Divorce and how long do they take?

  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.

    learn more about our child arrangement services


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

    A Financial Consent Order will confirm your financial agreement to the court. In the case of a Clean Break divorce, it will also sever your financial relationship with your spouse. Your solicitor can also turn your child arrangement agreement into a binding contract.

    ex partners shaking hands after agreeing on divorce

  2.  Apply for divorce

    (Approximately 6 weeks)

    The next stage is filling in your divorce application. 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.

    To demonstrate that your relationship has broken down, your application should include a statement from either you, your spouse, or both (in the case of a joint application), declaring that your relationship has permanently ended.

    As of The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, you no longer need to cite facts such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour to demonstrate this to the court. There is also no need to assign blame to one party. All the statement needs to communicate is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

    The divorce application will be processed and a copy of the divorce petition will be sent to your spouse, often by email if an address is given. You may also choose to take responsibility for serving your spouse with the declaration yourself.

    This can take up to 10 days if you filed for divorce online or 1 month if you applied through the postal system. In the case of a joint application, both you and your spouse will receive a declaration.

    Any recipients should respond within 7 days with an acknowledgement of service. While divorces can no longer be defended, a spouse may object to the divorce if the marriage was invalid in the first place, or if divorce in the UK is impossible due to issues with where one or both parties reside.

  3. Conditional Order

    (Minimum 20 weeks.)

    A Conditional Order (formerly called a Decree Nisi) does not end your marriage but states that the court sees no reason why you should not divorce.

    According to UK divorce law, there is currently a “cooling off” period of 20 weeks. This means that you will not be able to receive a Conditional Order for at least that amount of time after your divorce application. This is to ensure that the applicant has deeply considered whether they would like the divorce to move forward.

    If the court agree to grant the Conditional Order, a certificate will be sent to you and your spouse.

    You will then need to wait at least 6 weeks before the divorce can be finalised.

  4. Final Order

    (Minimum 6 weeks)
    A Final Order (Previously a Decree Absolute) is the document which shows that your marriage has legally come to an end.  You can apply for a Final Order 6 weeks (or more) after your Conditional Order is pronounced. It commonly takes between a few days to three weeks to arrive.

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


If you would like assistance with any step in your divorce, dissolution, or separation, 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.

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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.