The subject of divorce is very much under focus at the moment given the second reading of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill in the House of Commons. However, for the purposes of this article I am going to consider the law as it currently is rather than what it will hopefully be in the future.
The phrase ‘quickie divorce’ is something we see in newspaper headlines, often in the context of celebrities and the wealthy. However, a ‘quickie’ divorce is not attainable by anyone and everyone getting divorced in England and Wales, as everyone has to follow the same procedure regardless of who they are. In short there is no ‘shortcut’ to getting divorced. There are, however, differences in the speed that the process is administered and that depends on which method is adopted and/or which regional divorce centre is used.
There are currently two methods for starting divorce proceedings in this country:
- By paper via one of the regional divorce centres across the country; or
- Via the government’s new online divorce portal
The Paper Journey
My experience (with only a few exceptions) is that there is no such thing as a quick divorce where proceedings are issued on paper and travel to and from the divorce centre by post is required.
By way of an example, on 15 April 2020 the Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre (which is the regional divorce centre for the South East) confirmed that they were, at that time:
- Processing divorce petitions which had been received by post on 26.02.2020
- Processing acknowledgements of service received by post on 16.03.2020
- Decree Nisi applications were taking 15 weeks after receiving them to be considered by a legal advisor.
Taking this into consideration, and if we break this down into each stage, it is approximately:
- 6 weeks from the date the petition is sent before it is issued.
- 4 weeks from when the acknowledgement of service is received before this is processed
- 15 weeks before the application for Decree Nisi is considered
That is a total of 25 weeks (nearly 6 months) without factoring any delay for the respondent to return the acknowledgement of service (a form which the respondent must complete and return to the court acknowledging receipt of the divorce petition being served on him/her to enable the divorce to progress) or for the application for Decree Nisi to be completed and sent to the court. Within this 25-week period a date has still not been provided for the Decree Nisi yet. The Decree Absolute cannot be applied for until 6 weeks and 1 day after the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi has passed (except in extremely exceptional cases) and so factoring this in it is likely that it will take a minimum of 35 weeks (over 8 months) to finalise a divorce.
Of course, other regional divorce centres will have different processing times and the processing times at Bury St Edmunds will, and do, change regularly (albeit generally for the worse at the moment).
The Online Portal
My experience of the online divorce portal is very different to that of the paper journey (at least for now!). Again, by way of an example, a divorce petition issued in the middle of May 2020 has a date for the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi towards the end of June 2020. The 6 weeks and 1-day rule still applies to the online system in relation to applying for the Decree Absolute.
This means that theoretically, the divorce could be completed, from start to finish, within approximately 12 weeks (just under 3 months), less time than it would take for an application to be considered for Decree Nisi had the divorce started on paper.
What does this mean?
I am not going to pretend that the online portal is flawless, it isn’t. For example, rather frustratingly the online system is not currently available for couples wishing to dissolve their civil partnership or where the respondent has a solicitor acting for them.
However, for those couples that it is open for it is (and I will repeat – at least for now), much faster than the alternative paper journey.
Chris advises clients in Brighton and Horsham, if you would like to talk to us about your own individual situation please do contact us for an initial consultation.