This is a question which is at the forefront of people’s minds when they seek advice. How long does the process take? I will answer this with the help of one (celebrity) case which may conclude in a total of three months, and another (extraordinary) case which took sixteen years to finish.
The key to understanding this area is having an awareness that the process comprises of not only the actual divorce itself, but also the financial settlement.
It is possible to complete the divorce process through to Decree Absolute, the final stage of divorce, without ever arranging a financial deal, but this can result in future difficulties. The respective financial claims which you have against each other as a result of marriage will not dissolve until a final financial consent order has been approved by a judge. It is therefore often the negotiation of this financial deal which will determine how long the entire process will take. Petitioners may decide not to apply for the final stage of the divorce process, the Decree Absolute, until after the financial deal has been approved by the court. This will delay the date on which they become “divorced” from each other.
There are two recent extremes on the scale to demonstrate how timescales can vary so drastically from case to case.
Nigella Lawson and her husband Charles Saatchi have recently been in the media after an incident took place between them in a public place in early June. Decree Nisi was pronounced on 31 July, some seven weeks after the incident. It is said that the parties will be submitting a clean break consent order to the court, which will conclude financial arrangements between them, which will sever financial ties. This step can be taken as soon as Decree Nisi is pronounced. Decree Absolute can be applied for six weeks after the date of Decree Nisi. Therefore by mid September, this couple may well have divorced and had a financial agreement approved by the court, just over three months after separation.
By way of contrast, the case of Ramnarine v Ramnarine was heard before the Privy Council in July 2013, hearing an appeal from an order made from the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago. In that case the husband petitioned for divorce in July 1996 and secured Decree Absolute in August 1997. The wife activated her financial claim in February 1997. This has now been concluded in July 2013, over sixteen years after proceedings were started. The reason for this delay? There were four years nine months between issuing the application and the first hearing. Four further years between hearing and the judge giving his oral judgment. Nearly two years between oral judgment and written judgment. Two years and three months between judgment and appeal hearing. Then three years and two months from issuing the Privy Council appeal and it being heard (and the appeal dismissed).
This is an extraordinary level of delay, and atypical. As I have written about previously, the fast track in Milton Keynes enables divorcing couples to access a judge in court in a matter of weeks from the date of issuing their application. The issues seen in Ramnarine are unlikely to trouble applicants here.
However, if your final divorce deal provides for ongoing financial ties, for example, payment of maintenance, then you could be back in court many years after the Decree Absolute and the conclusion of the financial court order, to renegotiate the terms of that deal. If we interpret “divorce” as a termination of all financial ties, then how long it takes to divorce will be determined by the terms of the financial agreement that you reach the first time around.
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