13th Aug 2013

How long will it take to get divorced?

News has emerged of an American couple who have been fighting over their divorce for 17 years; 7 years longer than the marriage itself.

You can read the story here.

Rest assured that this is exceptional and represents a divorce where the process has gone seriously wrong.

Most divorces are resolved much quicker but just how long will it take for you to get divorced?

This is likely to depend on two key factors;

  1. The issues that need to be sorted out, such as contact, residence or financial remedies; and
  2. How the divorce is managed

What needs to be sorted out on divorce?

Some couples only need to get an order confirming that the marriage has ended – the Decree Absolute.   Be warned that even where there are no finances to sort out it makes sense to obtain a financial order confirming that the couple are not making financial claims against each other now or at any time in the future. 

In these circumstances the divorce normally takes somewhere between three to six months and will usually be done on an entirely paperwork basis.

If you have to ask the court to decide what should happen to the matrimonial finances by making an application for maintenance, lump sum payments or property adjustment orders then you should expect that process to take somewhere between 3 to 12 months.  The sooner that you and your partner can reach an agreement on who will get what at the end of a marriage, even if you have already made a financial application to the court, then the sooner the proceedings can be brought to an end.

More complex matters require more time for information gathering, disclosure and examination.  They also require much longer court hearings.  It is easier to find an available date in a court diary for a half day hearing than it will be to find a five day slot for a complicated hearing.  As a rule of thumb, the longer the appointment that you need from the court, the further ahead into the future you will have to book it.  It is easy to see how this can cause serious delay.

Sorting out issues relating to contact and residence will also take time.  Be reassured though that the divorce, finances and the children can all progress through the courts simultaneously even though court appointments relating to finances and children matters will usually be kept apart.

There are big changes going through the courts at the moment where the courts have a target of sorting out contact and residence issues within a reasonable period of time.  In public law cases, for example, including a local authority, the courts will have to resolve applications within 26 weeks, or, half a year.  This sounds like a long time but it will prove to be very difficult.  Expect to see a similar desire on the parts of the court to sort out contact and residence disputes between parents, as quickly as possible and without any undue delay.

Remember that being able to reach an agreement between you will always be quicker than leaving it to the court to decide what should happen.  Ask your lawyer about whether using mediation, collaboration or round table negotiations will settle things faster.  Arbitration can also save time when dealing with financial matters as it is often easier to get an appointment with an arbitrator instead of a judge and ask them to make the decision instead.

5 tips to help you save time and costs in divorce proceedings

  1. Make sure that you are prepared to deal with the challenges of going through divorce and separation.  Speak to your lawyer about what kind of support might be helpful whether from a counsellor,  coach, financial adviser, your GP or other professionals.
  2. Resist the temptation to be difficult or obstructive in obtaining and providing reasonable documents and information that you have been asked to provide.  You might feel that you are making things harder for your ex-partner by not co-operating but you will also run be making it harder and more expensive for yourself as well.
  3. Be aware that allowing your emotions to drive your actions and decisions can have serious repercussions when divorcing or separating.  You might feel justified in leaving abusive messages, spreading rumours about your partner to his or her friends and family or disposing of assets, but all of these will make the situation more hostile and complicated.  It can take a very long time to manage the chaos that follows and get back to dealing with the real issues that need to be sorted.
  4. Make sure that you instruct solicitors who will represent you fairly and firmly but with a with clear steering on what is and is not acceptable.  Your lawyers should keep you fully informed on how long matters are taking and the costs that are being incurred as you go along.  Remember that usually the longer proceedings take, the more expensive they will be.
  5. Use experienced family solicitors who are committed to resolving matters as quickly and cost effectively as possible and are capable of controlling the process so that it continues to move forwards in a reasonable fashion and without causing increased or unnecessary acrimony.  Instructing solicitors who are members of Resolution will help with this.

In summary, therefore, your divorce, in most cases will take between 3 to 12 months, stretching to 18 months or beyond for more complex matters.

The couple at the start of this article who have spent 17 years fighting over their divorce, the money and the children, serves as a warning for what happens when things are allowed to go horribly wrong.