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The myth of the quickie divorce: How long does divorce really take?

June Reid

You often read in the press that some celebrity has been granted a “quickie divorce”.

This is a myth.

There is no such thing as a “quickie divorce” granted in seconds.

In order to obtain a divorce in England, there is a set procedure to follow:

  1. The first step is for the Petitioner (the person who applies to the Court for the divorce) to lodge the divorce petition with the Court. The Court will then send a copy of the petition to the Respondent (the other person in the marriage), together with a document known as an Acknowledgement of Service form.

  2. The Acknowledgement of Service must be completed by the Respondent and returned to the Court indicating, amongst other things, that he or she has received the petition and whether he or she intends to oppose (defend) the divorce.

  3. The Court will then send a copy of the Acknowledgement of Service form to the Petitioner or the Petitioner’s solicitor, if he or she is legally represented.

  4. The Petitioner can then apply to the Court for a “decree nisi” which is the first stage of the divorce. The court file is placed before a District Judge. If all is in order, the judge will grant a certificate stating that the Petitioner is entitled to their divorce. A copy of the certificate will be sent to both parties stating the date for decree nisi.

  5. The decree nisi usually takes between one to two months to be pronounced (made) after the Court has received the application. A Judge will pronounce the decree nisi in Court. The decree nisi does not end the marriage.

  6. You then have to wait for a further six weeks and one day before you can apply for “decree absolute”, the final stage in the divorce process. This delay of six weeks is compulsory and cannot be shortened without very good reason. Once the decree absolute has been pronounced, you are legally divorced.


Divorce can take 4 – 5 months from start to finish. Most divorces take much longer than 4 -5 months. The total time depends upon the speed with which others, including the Court and the Respondent take to deal with matters and whether there are other issues to be resolved. There can be delays if a party lives abroad or if the Respondent does not return the Acknowledgment of Service form to the Court.

In most cases the divorce process itself will be a simple and uncontroversial process. What does take time is the question of how to divide financial and other assets. Whilst dividing the assets is a separate process to the divorce, there can be reasons (often division of pensions) to delay applying for the decree absolute until financial matters have been settled. Where there are reasons, it can significantly delay the time it takes to obtain decree absolute.

Please Note: W. Davies Solicitors have now closed their Family Department.

No new appointments are being made.

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