How long does a divorce take from start to finish in the UK, and what is involved?

19 August 2020

Coming to the decision to get divorced is likely to result in a lot of sadness, worry and stress. The situation itself can be difficult to contend with on its own but is liable to only become more problematic and trying if the process is confusing, excessively costly or takes longer than anticipated.

This guide has been designed to highlight everything you need to know about what a divorce actually is, when it is possible to get one, how much they tend to cost, and the length of the process from start to finish.

How long does a divorce take from start to finish

Roughly speaking, most divorces will take around four to six months from beginning to end, however this can vary depending on a number of factors.

What exactly is a divorce?

This may seem like a relatively easy question to answer, but it is still worth highlighting exactly what a divorce is. Simply put, a divorce is nearly always regarded as the ‘termination’ of a marriage, which needs to be verified by a court or some other authoritative body (this alters slightly from country to country).

While a divorce is predominantly about two people signing documentsto dissolve their marriage, there are an array of other elements that are involved in the process, from child custody (if there are children involved) to maintenancepayments, how debts are to be divided and who will get certain assets (property, cars and furniture, for example). Once a divorce has been completed, both parties are free to – if they so wish – marry someone else.

While the vast majority of the world allows divorce between married couples, it is interesting to note that in some countries – the Philippines and Vatican City, for example – it is still an illegal act. It is also technically still illegal for residents of Sark, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of the UK, to apply for or be granted a divorce

What is the difference between a divorce and an annulment?

Though the outcome – a marriage ending – is the same, there are some key differences between divorce and annulment that need to be made clear.

The key differentiating feature is that via an annulment, a marriage is cancelled. To all intents and purposes, it is as though the marriage never existed in the first place, while with a divorce the marriage doesn’t end up being struck from any records.

While it is possible for either party to begin annulment proceedings, there are a very particular set of caveats and rules that dictate whether or not an annulment is a viable option. Legitimate reasons for an annulment are:


  • Bigamy: If either party was legally still married to another person when the marriage took place, then it can – and legally should – be declared null and void.


  • Forced consent: This reason is designed to protect anyone who was forced into a marriage without actually wanting to go through with it. This threatening behaviour generally comes in the form of blackmail or violence.
  • Fraud: If one of the individuals misrepresented themselves prior to the marriage – either by claiming they owned assets they did not or if they lied significantly – then fraud could well be a valid annulment reason.
  • Illegal marriage: This could come in the form of one or both of those involved with the marriage being underage at the time of the marriage, or if the marriage is between two individuals that are closely related.
  • Incapacity: If one of the parties can showcase that they were mentally impaired when they committed to the marriage – generally due to the consumption of alcohol or drugs – then they may be able to be granted an annulment.

When can you get a divorce?

Divorce is generally considered to be the final option of many. If counselling and conversations have not worked, and divorce is regarded as the only choice, then there are certain things that both parties need to be aware of.

As with an annulment, there are certain set reasons that can precede divorce proceedings, and while they are by no means as stringent, it is still necessary to know what they are. There is only one ground for divorce which is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. There are currently five specific ‘reasons’ in the UK to support the irretrievable breakdown , and they are as follows:

  • Adultery: This is relatively self-explanatory, but adultery is considered to be when one of the married parties engages in sexual intercourse – with someone from outside of the marriage. It is worth pointing out that kissing someone is not legally regarded as adulterous behaviour.
  • ‘Unreasonable’ behaviour: This is the most common reason given during divorce proceedings, and while it may sound somewhat harsh, it is actually utilised as a cover-all term. It can range from domestic abuse or threats of violence but can also just as easily be used as the primary reason should both parties have simply drifted apart. More explanation about the specific circumstances can be detailed within the divorce documentation.
  • Living apart (for longer than two years): If both parties have been living in separate locations for more than two years then this sole reason can be used to instigate a divorce. However, both parties will need to agree.
  • Living apart (for longer than five years): This is similar to the reason stated above but does not require both parties to agree to divorce proceedings. Even if one party does not consent, it is still legally possible for the divorce to go ahead.
  • Desertion: This is the least frequently used of all the reasons for divorce. Desertion is similar to the ‘living apart’ basis and is used if one party has left the other. Usually, this will involve communications ceasing, monies no longer being paid, and access to assets being revoked.The divorce process can be complicated, confusing, and if handled poorly, incredibly costly. It can, therefore, be massively beneficial to use an experienced and reliable family law solicitor to ensure that all proceedings go as smoothly as possible, that the right things are included in all forms and documents, and all parties involved are fully aware of what stage proceedings are at.

What is involved with getting a divorce?

There are four key stages in a UK divorce, and they are as follows:

  1. Filing the divorce petition

This is the very beginning of the legal part of the divorce. Though, in essence, the divorce will not normally come as a surprise to either party, this is the first time that any paperwork will be produced. The divorce form (known technically as a D8) must be filled out by one party to begin with and then handed to the local divorce centre or issued online.

This form is designed to outline the key reasons as to why the divorce is taking place.

This is nearly always the stage when court fees will have to be paid. These tend to be around £550. It is certainly worth speaking to your chosen solicitor during these initial proceedings to ensure everything happens in the correct order and at the most appropriate time.

  1. Court acknowledgement

The next step is for the court to declare that the divorce proceedings are indeed going ahead. The court will get in contact with the party that did not file the initial documentation and make them aware of the situation. They will then have to fill out a form to state that they understand what is happening, that they agree to divorce, and will also have to state whether or not they agree with everything that has been written in the divorce documentation. This documentation must be returned within seven days of it being received.

  1. Decree Nisi

Once the first two stages have been overcome – regardless of how long the process has taken or how challenging it has been – the next step will be to apply for something known as a Decree Nisi. This is, quite simply, a letter asking the court whether it can find any justifiable reason as to why the divorce is unable to proceed. This is nearly always nothing other than a formality, and a date will then subsequently be set for the divorce proceedings.

  1. 4. Decree Absolute

Once you have applied for the Decree Absolute your divorce will be on the verge of completion. Once the application has been filled out and sent to the correct court, it will take between two and three weeks for everything to become finalised. Once this has happened, the divorce will be complete, and neither party will be legally married any longer.

How much does a divorce tend to cost?

Although this will differ from case to case, research has found that the average cost of a divorce is currently just under £15,000. This figure is a combination of fees and any associated ‘lifestyle’ costs. It is certainly worth pointing out that costs can be massively reduced if everything is amicable; if both parties can agree on certain elements – who keeps the house, for example – in advance of proceedings starting, it will often be unnecessary to spend excessively.

How long does a divorce tend to take?

Every divorce will take a different amount of time based on the inherent factors within that set scenario. However, roughly speaking, most divorces will take around four to six months from beginning to end. If things do not run smoothly – if one party is not willing to be cooperative, for example – then it could easily take twice that amount of time, if not longer.

For dedicated legal support and expert advice on any family law issue, get in touch with a member of our team today.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.