One of the questions we often get asked is ‘how long does it take to get a divorce.’ Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question. Timescales will largely depend on the individual circumstances of each case. In this case study, I will look at some of the factors which affect this.

The Divorce Process

The divorce itself and financial matters are treated separately by the Court, although the two processes often run alongside one another.

Under the current Law, parties must be married for 1 year before they can apply for divorce. Once a divorce petition has been ‘issued’ by the Court, it must be served on the respondent by post (in most circumstances it will be served by the Court). The respondent must then complete an acknowledgement of service, confirming they have received the petition and do not wish to defend it. The petitioner is then able to apply for the decree nisi which is the penultimate stage of the divorce. Once the decree nisi has been ‘pronounced’ by the Court, there is a ‘cooling off period’ of 6 weeks and one day until the petitioner can apply for the ‘decree absolute’ which is the final stage of the divorce. For reasons set out here (https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/blog/pros-cons-applying-decree-absolute-final-financial-order/) we would usually advise that clients wait until financial matters have been resolved before applying for decree absolute.

Due to Covid-19 the Courts are currently experiencing severe delays. Bury St Edmunds is the regional divorce centre which serves individuals in the South East of England. As at the 18th May 2020, they advised that their timescales as follows:

  • Processing Divorce Petitions: 12 weeks
  • Processing Acknowledgements of Service: 2 months
  • Processing Applications for Decree Nisi: 7 weeks
  • Legal Adviser’s consideration of Applications for Decree Nisi: 18 weeks
  • Processing applications for Decree Absolute: 1 week

We are hearing reports of sacks of unopened post each day, and the general view is that these delays are unlikely to improve before 2021.

Online Divorce Pilot

Family Law Partners are part of an online divorce pilot set up as part of the HMCTS Reform Programme for the purpose of giving the administration of justice a new operating model with a sustainable and affordable infrastructure that delivers better services at a lower cost. This means we are able to submit divorce petitions for our clients through an online portal rather than through the paper-based system. A dedicated team is responsible for processing petitions that have been submitted through this portal.

In contrast to the paper-based system described above, when using the pilot, we have found that, generally, each stage of the process has been turned around within a few days- much to the delight of our clients. It is unclear how long these benefits will last as more firms sign up to the pilot and it is rolled out further.

In some cases, it is not possible to use the online pilot. These include cases where the petitioner wishes to keep their address confidential from the respondent, and for dissolution of civil partnerships.

No Fault Divorce

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which introduces ‘no fault divorce’, received royal assent on 25th June 2020. It is expected the Act will come into effect next year following implementation period. We have written a number of blogs on the journey towards no fault divorce here. There is a misconception that these changes will speed up the divorce process. In fact, the Act introduces a 20-week wait period between the start of proceedings and application for the conditional order (presently known as ‘decree nisi’). Couples often ‘feel divorced’ at decree nisi stage and it is hoped the 20-week period will offer couples meaningful time to reflect and turn back or, where reconciliation is not possible, agree important arrangements for the future.

Financial Matters

At Family Law Partners, we view Court proceedings as a last resort, instead offering our clients a wide range of alternative dispute resolution options. Below, I have set out the timescales involved for each option.

Solicitor-Led Negotiation

Individuals may seek to reach an agreement via their solicitors. This will then need to be drawn up into a Consent Order and submitted to the Court for the Judge’s approval. On average, the solicitor-led negotiation process takes between 6- 15 months but is dependent on the circumstances of each case.

As at the 18th May 2020, Bury St Edmunds estimated that it would take the District Judge 20 weeks from date of receipt to consider Consent Applications. Family Law Partners are also part of an online divorce pilot. In contrast, Consent Applications submitted through this portal are currently being processed within a week.

Mediation

Mediation is a voluntary process in which an independent, professionally trained Mediator helps parties reach an agreement. Mediation sessions usually last around 90 minutes and, in our experience, most parties are able to reach an agreement in 3 to 5 sessions, although more or less may be needed.

The time between sessions will depend upon the availability of the mediator and both parties involved, as well as the ‘homework’ parties are required to undertake. Parties may also wish to seek legal advice between sessions. Once an agreement has been reached, the mediator will draw this up into a Memorandum of Understanding. This will then need to be drawn up into a Consent Order and submitted to the Court for the Judge’s approval.

Collaborative Law

The collaborative process involves parties meeting together, with their collaboratively trained lawyers for the purposes of settling financial matters. This can often be quicker than solicitor-led negotiation because, with everyone in one place, it is quicker to be able to take instructions and resolve misinterpretations. Again, any agreement reached will need to be drawn up into a Consent Order and submitted to the Court. On average this process takes between 6- 12 months but is dependent on the circumstances of each case.

Court Proceedings

Financial Proceedings are usually split into three stages: First Appointment, Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment, and Final Hearing. Parties will be asked to provide financial disclosure and may be asked to obtain expert reports between hearings. Parties are encouraged to reach an agreement at any stage of proceedings and negotiations through solicitors often run alongside proceedings. If a case were to run all the way through to Final Hearing, this process usually takes between 8- 15 months.

There are presently substantial delays in Court proceedings as a result of covid-19. As at 31st July, there is a wait time of 16 weeks from application to First Appointment. For this reason, many couples are opting for Private FDR appointments and Arbitration which can be set up much more quickly.

Factors which Can Affect Timescales

For parties to reach an agreement or for a Judge judgement, they must first understand the value of the matrimonial pot through financial disclosure. The nature of the assets involved can impact timescales. For example, where a company is involved, arrangements may need to be made to have this valued.

Furthermore, parties are often required to obtain a pension valuation. Timescales for receiving these can greatly vary according to pension providers, with NHS pensions taking a significant amount of time. Where pensions are significant, a pension actuary may need to be instructed to prepare a report.

Whilst delays can be frustrating for couples, it is important that these valuations and reports are carried out as placing an incorrect value on a substantial asset can have a material impact on the overall settlement.

How can we help?

Our team of family law specialists have extensive experience in divorce, and offer a range of options to help you. Unlike other firms, we will work with you to help limit the financial and emotional impact on you and your family. Contact us for a confidential discussion about your personal circumstances.

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