People often ask how long a divorce will take but this is a very difficult question to answer as so much depends on the circumstances of the individuals involved. There are however some stages of a divorce which do have strict timetables.
Stage 1. See A Solicitor & Start Divorce Proceedings
After one year of marriage either spouse may start the divorce, the person who starts the divorce is called the Petitioner. The divorce petition and statement of arrangements about any children are completed and sent to court with the marriage certificate.
Stage 2. Court Receives Petition
Within a few days, the court will send a copy of the petition and arrangements to the other spouse, referred to as the Respondent. A copy of the petition is also sent to anyone named in the adultery petition, although it is not usually necessary to name the other party or involve them in the proceedings.
Stage 3. Response Of Respondent
- Within 14 days - the Respondent should send to Court a form called ‘Acknowledgement of Service’. The form asks the Respondent whether they intend to defend the petition, whether any claim for costs is disputed and whether orders affecting any children are sought.
- Within 28 days of receipt (longer if the documents have been sent abroad) – whether or not the Respondent has returned the ‘Acknowledgement of Service’, the Respondent must, if they intend to defend the petition, file a ‘Defence’ (called an Answer). The petition then becomes defended and the procedure outlined below does not apply. Defended divorce proceedings resulting in a fully contested hearing are very rare, but will inevitably cause a delay in proceedings.
- If the Respondent does not return the ‘Acknowledgement of Service’ – then proof that the Respondent and any named Co-Respondent have received the petition will have to be obtained before any further steps are taken. This may involve arranging for someone to deliver the petition to the Respondent and Co-Respondent personally, or more rarely by obtaining a Court order that proof that the Respondent and Co-Respondent received the petition is not needed.
Stage 4. Court Receives ‘Acknowledgement Of Service’
The Court will send a copy of the form(s) of ‘Acknowledgement Service’ to the Petitioner’s solicitor.
Stage 5. Petitioner Can Apply For A Certificate Of Entitlement To A Decree
If the Respondent is not defending the petition, the Petitioner can apply for a certificate of Entitlement to a decree. The Petitioner’s solicitor prepares an Affidavit for the Petitioner to swear confirming that the contents of the petition are true. It will also state whether the circumstances (including those relating to any children) have changed since the filing of the petition. The Petitioner will swear the Affidavit before a solicitor or Court Official and it will then be sent to the Court with the request for a date for the first decree of divorce (Decree Nisi) to be pronounced.
Stage 6. Court Grants Decree Nisi
The District Judge looks through the papers and, if they seem in order, will give a certificate for the Decree Nisi to be pronounced. Both the Petitioner and Respondent (through their solicitors) are then advised of the date fixed for the Decree Nisi. Depending on the Court’s diary, the date is likely to be a few weeks after the application is lodged. The couple will not usually have to attend court.
Stage 7. Arrangements For Children
If both parties have made an agreement regarding their children then the District Judge is unlikely to interfere. If an agreement concerning the children has not been reached, then the District Judge may ask the Petitioner and Respondent (accompanied by their solicitors) to attend an informal appointment to discuss a solution. The District Judge may also ask for a Court Welfare Officer to become involved. If a solution cannot be reached, this will delay the application for the final decree of the divorce.
Stage 8. Decree Absolute
- Six weeks and one day after the date of the Decree Nisi the Petitioner may apply for the final decree (Decree Absolute) by sending the appropriate form to the Court. This step is not automatic. This Decree will be processed and may even be available on the same day.
- If more than three months after the Petitioner could first have applied for Decree Absolute has passed, the Respondent may apply for the Decree Absolute if the Petitioner has not already done so.
As your circumstances have changed, you may want to think about making a Will or updating an existing Will at this point.