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15 November 2016

19: A quickie divorce (Part 1)

In the short of news months between the Brexit Referendum and the US Presidential Election build up, the popular press was full of references to ‘quickie divorces’. The question that often leaps to mind is simply ‘if celebrities can get a quickie divorce, why can’t mere mortals’?

In reality, for most people a divorce is likely to take between 6-8 months from start to finish and could take significantly longer if the final stage in the process (obtaining the decree absolute) is deferred until financial issues have been resolved – which it often is.

There are various reasons why a quickie divorce is something of an urban myth

Firstly, although couples can get a divorce by consent if they can show that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, they can only do so if they have lived apart for a period of 2 years or more before the proceedings are started. If a couple wish to obtain a divorce sooner than this, one of them has got to divorce the other based on an allegation of adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Frequently the specific allegations are agreed between the parties such as to enable the divorce to proceed undefended but it can often take a little while to reach the point of agreement when potentially hurtful allegations are committed to writing.

Secondly, there are various distinct stages to the divorce process. The procedure starts with a divorce petition being lodged with the court. Most petitions are sent by post to one of the regional divorce centres set up in 2015. The experience of most solicitors is that these institutions are unable to process efficiently and promptly the vast number of applications they receive, many of which are submitted by people acting without solicitors. Although there has been talk of an on-line court to streamline the process, this has not yet been introduced.

Once issued, the divorce petition has to be served on the other spouse who needs to complete a document (an Acknowledgement of Service) confirming receipt of the petition and indicating whether or not they intend to defend the proceedings. Not all people who receive divorce petitions accurately complete and return the Acknowledgement in a prompt manner to the court.

The next stage requires completion of further documentation to apply for the decree nisi. That application then needs to be processed by the court and a date fixed for the pronouncement of the decree nisi.

The pronouncement of the decree nisi takes place in open court and this is why members of the press can find out about the pronouncement and report on it. This is an important point. Invariably what the press report is not the complete ending of the marriage but the pronouncement of the decree nisi. That is really just a half-way point on the route to a divorce.

The marriage actually only ends upon decree absolute. Save for exceptional circumstances there must be a period of at least 6 weeks between the date of the decree nisi and the date of the decree absolute. It you are the respondent, and it is your spouse who has brought the proceedings, you are reliant on them to make the application. If they decline to do so you need to wait a further 3 months before you can apply and, even then, the process is not simple.

Accordingly it takes a huge amount of cooperation and good luck to get from start to finish in anything approximating ‘quickie’. Most people will find that the process will be rather more leisurely.

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