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One of the many questions that people have on their mind during the separation process is: how long does a divorce take?

Well, the minimum time it will take for you to end your marriage or partnership in the UK is 26 weeks.

This blog covers the divorce process in detail, including:

  • How long does it take to file a divorce application? 
  • What are the two key waiting periods within the process?
  • Top tips for a faster divorce process.

Let’s find out what you can do to speed up your divorce proceedings...

How Long Does A Divorce Take In The UK?

If all divorce paperwork is filed on time, the <bloglink>legal process of ending a marriage<bloglink> will take at least 6 months.

However, this means the process of getting an actual divorce. If there are difficulties agreeing the <bloglink>divorce settlement<bloglink> and making childcare arrangements, the divorce may take longer. This will depend on how complicated the issues that need to be settled are and whether you and your spouse can reach an agreement promptly.

A clock and calendar ask the question "How long does a divorce take?"

Every situation is unique, and timescales vary according to the circumstances. To determine how long a divorce will take, you must first understand your case and how long each stage will take.

Note: All the timelines in this guide apply equally to the process of <bloglink>civil partnership dissolution.<bloglink>

The First Step: The Divorce Application Form

The first step in filing for divorce is to fill out the <bloglink>online application form<bloglink>. If you are the applicant, then you must affirm that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and submit the following information:

  • The names of you and your partner
  • Your contact information
  • Your original marriage certificate or a certified copy

The process of completing the divorce application form might take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. It depends on your degree of experience with online application forms and your ability to understand the legal questions (if a solicitor assists you, completing the application form will likely be much quicker).

How Long Does It Take To File A Divorce Application?

If you file your divorce application online, the relevant court will process it automatically. If you wish to file a paper application, you have to do it at your local family court.

Online application form for a divorce

Once your application form is processed by the court, you will receive a confirmation message as well as a case number. You will also receive a copy of the application (stamped by Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service). If you are applying as a sole applicant, the court will send a copy of the application form to your ex-partner as well. The court may process an online application and legally 'issue' (ie start) your divorce proceedings in as little as 10 days. If you send a formal application via the post, it may take up to a month for the court to process it.

How Long Do You Have To Respond To A Divorce Application?

In a joint application, you and your partner must submit the application form together and agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken down, with one partner initiating the procedure (often online) and the other being requested to confirm all facts after creating their own online account.

In the case of a sole application, the court will issue an '<bloglink>Acknowledgement of Service'<bloglink> and a Notice of Proceedings to the spouse who did not make the application (referred to as 'the respondent'). The respondent has 14 days after receiving these documents to complete and return the Acknowledgement of Service.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Conditional Order?

After the court has issued your divorce, you must wait at least 20 weeks before applying for the <bloglink>Conditional Order.<bloglink> This 20-week period is meant to allow you and your partner to think about your current situation and determine whether or not you want to proceed with the divorce.

Think of it like a "cooling off period".

It is also a period when you may decide on official plans for your children's care and the distribution of family money.

Once issued, the Conditional Order certifies that the court sees no reason why your and your partner should not separate. To finalise your divorce, you must then apply for a Final Order, which is the last stage of your divorce.

Wait traffic light sign
You must wait 20 weeks before applying for the Final Order.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Final Order?

After the Conditional Order is issued, you must wait another 6 weeks before applying for the Final Order. The divorce is legally binding once the Final Order is received. The Final Order was known as the <bloglink>Decree Absolute<bloglink> under the previous divorce law.

So, How Long Does The Whole Divorce Process Take?

You can see that the absolute quickest time you can get a divorce in is 26 weeks (allowing for the 20 week 'cooling off' period after the Conditional Order is granted, plus the 6 weeks that are then required before the <bloglink>Final Order<bloglink> is granted).

However, the 26 week minimum is kind of theoretical. It doesn't take into account the time needed for you to file the application forms; any delay if you're a sole applicant and have to wait for your spouse to respond; or the fact that the court has to process your application, and is often subject to delays due to high levels of demand on the court system.

In reality, if everything goes smoothly and there are no unforeseen delays, the quickest you could realistically get a divorce in is in about 7 months.

And if there are issues around the divorce finances or child care arrangements the process can take much longer...

Image of a down pointing emoji hand

How Long Does a Divorce Take When Making A Divorce Settlement?

If you and your partner are going through a divorce, then you will likely need to reach a financial settlement regarding the family finances. This should entail dividing property, assets, stocks, <bloglink>pensions<bloglink>, <bloglink>inheritances<bloglink>, and personal possessions.

To be clear, the process of agreeing your financial settlement is entirely separate from the process of getting formally divorced. While the processes can run alongside each other, they are separate elements. Having your divorce granted in a Final Order simply ends the marriage, and does nothing to split the family finances between you.

The divorce process vs the divorce settlement

The length of time it takes to agree a financial settlement is mostly affected by whether or not you can agree matters. If you can reach an agreement on a financial settlement voluntarily in the form of a <bloglink>Consent Order<bloglink> (often with the help of a solicitor or mediator), then the process is far speedier than if you have to go to a court for a court-imposed Financial Order.

If you do need to go to court to have a judge decide for you, then the process will take far longer (many months, or even years, depending on the complexity of your case and when you are able to get a court date for your final hearing). Any appeal of the judge's decision would extend timelines even further.

How Long Does A Divorce Take If You Have Children?

Just like your financial settlement (aka <bloglink>"Ancillary Relief"<bloglink>), any child arrangement proceedings are separate from the formal process of getting divorced. In general, you should try to make child arrangements as soon as possible in order to offer your children certainty and stability. For this reason child arrangement proceedings often run alongside divorce proceedings. Ideally, you will be able to agree upon any child arrangements through private negotiation or <bloglink>mediation<bloglink>. If this is the case arrangements are frequently resolved between the couple in a matter of weeks, without the need to involve the courts

However, if you and your partner cannot agree on child custody you'll need to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. The procedure for obtaining a Child Arrangements Order varies somewhat depending on the circumstances. <bloglink>CAFCASS<bloglink> may conduct a background check with both social services and the police if necessary, and you and your partner may also need to appear in court for a hearing. Further hearings may be necessary depending on the circumstances to finalise the specifics and make the Child Arrangements Order legally binding.

All this means that obtaining a Child Arrangements Order through the courts might take anything from 6 months to a year or more in total.

Although not every case is suited for family mediation, reaching an agreement on child custody through mediation is frequently preferred and faster than going to court.

Has The Change To 'No-Fault ' Divorce Reduced How Long It Takes To Get A Divorce?

On the 6th April 2022 the UK government changed the divorce law to make divorces 'no-fault'.

Under the previous divorce rules, one of the partners had to accept responsibility for the marriage's failure, or the couple had to live separately for at least two years before filing for divorce. This had the potential to worsen an already difficult situation or significantly slow down the process. It also risked turning divorce into a 'blame game'.

A man attends mediation
There's no longer a requirement to allocate blame during the divorce process.

Additionally, if the other partner <bloglink>contested the divorce<bloglink>, the applicant may have faced a 5-year delay before being granted a divorce. Now, under the new rules, it is no longer possible to contest a divorce which reduces the risk of delay. You can only contest a divorce in extremely limited circumstances such as a lack of jurisdiction or <bloglink>invalidity of the marriage<bloglink>.

Also, there is now no need to establish one of the old <bloglink>grounds of divorce<bloglink>, meaning there is less scope for disagreement, which can help shorten the time it takes to file the divorce application.

With the new rules there is simply a mandatory 20-week wait to apply for the Conditional Order (which replaces the <bloglink>Decree Nisi<bloglink>). You also have to wait for 6 weeks to apply for the Final Order (which replaces the Decree Absolute) after the Conditional Order is approved, making for a faster overall divorce process.

Speeding Up The Divorce

If you want a quick divorce, there are a few basic things you can do to expedite the process:

  1. Hiring a good divorce lawyer is the best option to ensure a smooth and speedy process. They can assist you from beginning to end of your divorce, ensuring that you do not encounter any legal stumbling blocks that might delay your application.
  2. Make a joint divorce application. This avoid the 14 day reply window that must be given to the respondent if you make a sole application.
  3. Make sure your paperwork and application forms are accurate and fully filled out, and you have a copy of your <bloglink>marriage certificate.<bloglink> This avoids your application being rejected by the court, causing further delay.
  4. If you proceed without a lawyer, conduct research on the divorce processes to ensure that you are informed of the deadlines and your legal duties. Misunderstanding your legal rights and obligations may significantly impede the process (check out some of my other divorce posts to <bloglink>learn more<bloglink>).
  5. Pick the right court. Any family court can process your application and some are busier than others. It's worth phoning a few family court offices and asking what their current backlog is like, then pick the fastest one.

Can I Get A 'Quickie' Divorce?

There is no such thing as a 'quickie' divorce. The minimum 26 week period is set by law, and it is not possible to 'jump the queue' to get an earlier court date. Some online divorce services advertise 'quickie' divorces, but by this they simply mean they believe they are quicker and more efficient than using a traditional solicitor. However, many divorce solicitors also now offer online assistance and use modern IT (such as holding client conferences via Zoom), and therefore it's worth researching all options before deciding what the best choice for your divorce service is.


How much does a quick divorce cost in the UK?

The cost of filing a divorce application is currently £593. In addition, many people choose to use either a solicitor or online service to help them process the application (particularly if there are any issues regarding any financial settlement or child arrangements). You can learn more about how much solicitors and online divorce services charge <bloglink>here.<bloglink>

Do both parties have to agree to a no fault divorce?

Because the option to contest a divorce has been removed, neither party is required to agree to a no-fault divorce. Even if your partner does not agree with the divorce, you can nonetheless file solely for divorce.

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Neil Johnstone is a barrister and the founder of Neil is a barrister with an interest in all forms of civil and family law, and has appeared at all Court levels, up to and including the Court of Appeal.

Neil started this site in response to a common problem he noticed: Clients were unable to pursue deserving cases due to a lack of up-front funds. Neil knew that better access to No-Win-No-Fee representation and legal funding could help bridge the gap, and so founded; a unique comparison site connecting clients, law firms, and specialist funders.

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