How long does a divorce take?

It’s a simple question, and one often asked by those contemplating divorce proceedings: how long will it take?

The question is entirely understandable: for someone whose marriage has broken down the priority is to get the formalities of divorce out of the way as soon as possible, so that they can get on with their lives.

And divorce can obviously be a stressful process, so the quicker it is over, the better for all concerned.

But the question isn’t necessarily easy to answer.

In a literal sense, the question does have a simple answer: the divorce process takes a minimum of six months.

However, as we will see in a moment, the actual answer in most cases is rather more complicated.

Before we look at that, an explanation as to where the six month time period comes from.

Divorce is a two-stage process.

The process is begun by one or both of the parties issuing a divorce application, together with a statement that they consider that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

There is then a twenty week ‘period for reflection’, intended to give the parties an opportunity to reconsider. This is the first stage of the process.

At the end of the twenty week period the applicant or applicants may confirm to the court that they wish the application to continue.

The court will then make a conditional divorce order, which ends the first stage of the process.

The second stage of the process is that there must be a six week period after the conditional order is made, before the party or parties in whose favour the conditional order was made may give notice to the court that they wish the conditional order to be made final.

When the court receives a notice it will make the conditional order final, bringing the divorce to a conclusion.

So a divorce consists of a twenty week period, followed by a six week period, a total of twenty-six weeks, or six months.

Thus the minimum time for a divorce to take is six months, although it will actually take slightly longer, as there will be a gap between the court receiving the application for the divorce to continue and making the conditional order, and between the court receiving the notice to make the conditional order final and making the final order.

But that is not the end of the story, at least in most cases.

In most cases there will be financial matters to be sorted out in connection with the divorce, and it is usually not advisable to finalise the divorce until all financial matters have been resolved, and a financial remedies order made.

The reason for this that the divorce could have financial implications.

For example, it could mean that a party loses a potential benefit under their spouse’s pension, as a pension scheme will often provide that if the pension holder dies then their spouse should benefit from the pension, but that benefit will obviously be lost if they are no longer the pension holder’s spouse. The way to prevent this is to sort out pensions before the divorce is finalised.

Of course, financial arrangements may be finalised within the six month period, but very often they take longer, meaning that the divorce will take longer – quite how long will vary from one case to another, and may very well be impossible to predict at the outset of the case.

In summary, if there are no financial matters to sort out, or if they have already been sorted out, the divorce should take a little more than six months, otherwise, it may take considerably longer.

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