‘Can the six month time-frame for no fault divorce / dissolution be shortened?’
The changes introduce a minimum twenty week period between the start of the proceedings and the application for Conditional Order (previously known as the Decree Nisi) and then a further six week period between the Conditional Order and the Final Order (previously the Decree Absolute). Whilst in some instances this has been reported as drastically increasing the time-frames, given that most divorces currently take 4-6 months and there is already a minimum of six weeks between the Decree Nisi and the Decree Absolute, in practical terms there is likely to be very little difference in time-frames under the new law. In addition, it is often the case that the Decree Absolute (or Final Order as it will become) will be delayed pending conclusion of the financial matters and this is likely to continue to be the case.
The reason for the introduction of the 20 week time-frame is to provide separating couples with a specific period of reflection before the divorce is finalised. Even where a couple wishes to move ahead with the divorce, it provides both individuals with some time to consider matters going forwards and seek to agree the financial matters and the arrangements for any children.
There has always been the possibility of reducing the 6 week time-frame between Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute and this possibility remains with the introduction of no fault divorce. The court can also shorten the 20 week period before the Conditional Order being applied for. Under the current law, applications to shorten the time-frame have been few and far between given it is only a six week period. Judges have always been of the view that the time-frame should only be shortened in exceptional circumstances and it is anticipated that this will continue to be the case. Whilst any application to reduce the time-frame will be considered on its own merits, successful applications have previously involved cases where one spouse / civil partner is terminally ill and there is a concern that the divorce may not have been concluded prior to that persons death, and those with unique circumstances such as a case where the parties had married and divorced in Russia but the divorce was not recognised in England and Wales. The courts have previously declined applications to reduce the time-frame where spouses simply wish to end the marriage as quickly as possible and we cannot see this changing given the 20 week period is specifically designed as a period of reflection. It is, therefore, unlikely to be the case that spouses / civil partners can get a ‘quickie divorce / dissolution’ by applying under this provision!
If you feel that you will need to apply to shorten the time-frame as part of your divorce / dissolution then please contact a member of our specialist family and matrimonial team who will be happy to assist you.