How long does divorce take in the UK?

Getting a divorce in the UK typically takes a minimum of 26 weeks, which is about 6 months, from when you start the application process until the divorce is finalised. This timeframe serves as a sort of 'cooling-off' period, allowing both parties time to consider their decisions and make necessary arrangements, especially if there are financial matters or child arrangements to be resolved.

However, it's important to note that while 26 weeks is the minimum duration for the process, the actual time can extend beyond this, particularly if there are disputes between the parties involved.

If financial settlements or the division of assets are contested and require court intervention, the divorce process can be prolonged. In some cases, especially where there are significant delays in court proceedings or complex disputes to be resolved, the entire process could take up to 12-15 months.

This extended timeline often includes the time taken for both parties to negotiate and agree on financial settlements during the divorce proceedings.

What is the process for getting a divorce in the UK?

To get a divorce in the UK, the legal process begins with one spouse (the sole applicant) or both spouses (joint applicants) submitting a divorce application online or via a paper application to the family court.


This application should assert that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, the core principle of UK divorce law, which can now be pursued without assigning fault thanks to the no fault divorce rules introduced to promote a non-confrontational process.

The divorce petition

Following the submission of the divorce application, the applicant(s) must provide the original marriage certificate along with the application. If making a sole application, the other spouse (the respondent) must be served with the divorce papers, giving them a chance to agree or dispute the divorce petition.

In cases of joint application, this step is simplified as both parties are cooperating from the start.

Waiting periods

After filing, there's a six-week waiting period, a designed cooling-off phase to allow both parties to reflect on their decision. If the divorce proceeds, the next legal milestone is the granting of a conditional order (previously known as a decree nisi), which is the court's way of acknowledging that the reasons for the divorce have been accepted.

Before the final order (decree absolute), which legally ends the marriage, can be issued, there is another waiting period, usually of six weeks and a day after the conditional order.

The timeline for divorce explained

The timeline of a divorce in the UK can vary significantly, but it generally follows a structured path from the initial application to the final decree absolute.

The process begins when one party decides to apply for a divorce, which can now be done through an online application form, thanks to new divorce rules that aim to simplify the process.

This is particularly useful in cases of civil partnership dissolution as well.

The person applying (the applicant) should seek advice from a divorce solicitor to ensure accuracy in the application and to understand the legal nuances, such as grounds for divorce under the principle of irretrievable breakdown, potentially including unreasonable behaviour or domestic abuse in limited circumstances.

Once the divorce application is filed, if it's a joint divorce application, the process tends to be smoother and quicker since both parties agree on moving forward with the divorce.

The application is reviewed by the tribunals service, and if everything is in order, a preliminary court hearing may be scheduled, although this step is often skipped if the divorce is uncontested.

A significant part of the divorce timeline is the mandatory waiting periods inserted to allow both parties time to reflect on their decision.

After the decree nisi is granted, there is a six-week cooling-off period before the decree absolute can be issued.

This six-week waiting period is crucial as it provides a last opportunity for couples to reconsider their decision or make necessary arrangements regarding personal belongings, financial settlements, or child custody agreements without causing unnecessary delays.

Factors that can speed up the divorce process include both parties working collaboratively, either through collaborative law practices or by utilizing divorce solicitors efficiently to negotiate divorce settlements and child arrangements orders amicably. Conversely, factors that may delay the process include contested applications, disputes over assets, or issues related to child custody requiring further court hearings.

Financial matters

Parallel to the divorce process, couples often need to negotiate financial settlements and make arrangements for children. These discussions can lead to a financial order from the court, outlining the divorce financial settlement, including

  • any division of assets

  • maintenance payments

  • childcare arrangements

This step might involve further hearings, especially if an agreement cannot be reached amicably, potentially involving family lawyers or collaborative lawyers to help mediate and reach a legally binding financial agreement.

The entire process, from the initial divorce application to the final order, varies in duration depending on the complexity of the case, the cooperation level between spouses, and the court's schedule.

While a quick divorce can be achieved in around 6 months, complex cases, especially those involving contested financial claims or child arrangements orders, can take much longer, often requiring several court hearings and possibly preliminary court hearings.

Throughout this period, it's advisable to seek guidance from divorce solicitors, who can navigate the intricacies of family law, court orders, and ensure that all legal obligations, such as providing a marriage certificate and paying the court fee, are met to avoid unnecessary delays.

Child Arrangements during divorce

During a divorce in the UK, one of the most crucial aspects to consider is the welfare and living arrangements of any children involved. Child arrangements cover a wide range of considerations, focusing on where the children will live, how much time they will spend with each parent, and how they will be taken care of. This is a fundamental part of the divorce process, ensuring that the children's best interests are prioritized and that they maintain a stable and nurturing environment.

A Child Arrangements Order is a legal decree issued by the court that formalizes these aspects. It details with whom the child will live, when and how the child will have contact with the non-resident parent, and other important matters related to the child's upbringing, such as education and healthcare decisions. These orders are usually applied for during the divorce proceedings if parents cannot reach an amicable agreement on their own or through mediation. The court's primary consideration in making these orders is the child's welfare.

For more information see how to separate when you have a child.

Considering childcare arrangements during the divorce process is of paramount importance for several reasons. First, it helps to ensure a level of continuity and stability in the child's life during a period of significant change. Children thrive on routine and familiarity, so knowing where they will live and how often they will see each parent can help mitigate the emotional impact of the divorce. Second, clear arrangements can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts between parents, which can further disrupt the child's life and well-being. Finally, by addressing these issues early and thoughtfully, parents can lay a foundation for cooperative co-parenting in the future, which is beneficial for everyone involved.

The process of reaching an agreement on child arrangements can be done directly between the parents, through discussions facilitated by a mediator, or, as a last resort, through the court system. The aim is always to reach an agreement that serves the best interests of the child, taking into account their needs, feelings, and wishes as appropriate for their age and understanding. Parents are encouraged to work together to create a nurturing and supportive environment for their children, regardless of the changes happening in their own relationship.

For more, see our guide to relationship breakdown with child

Getting legal help during divorce

Getting legal help during a divorce is crucial in ensuring that the process is handled fairly, efficiently, and with a clear understanding of one's rights and obligations under UK law. Divorce solicitors and lawyers play a vital role in navigating the complex legal terrain of divorce, offering expertise that can significantly impact the outcome of both financial settlements and child arrangements.

Role of divorce solicitors and lawyers

The divorce solicitors and lawyers at LBMW specialise in family law and are equipped with the knowledge and experience to guide their clients through the legal process of divorce.

We provide essential advice on all aspects of ending a marriage or civil partnership, including the division of assets, spousal support, and child custody issues.

We'll help you in preparing and filing necessary legal documents, representing you in court if needed, and negotiating with the opposing party to reach amicable agreements. They ensure that their clients' rights are protected and that any agreements made are legally binding and enforceable.

We are committed to try and reach a financial settlement or order without the intervention of the Court and encourage ADR as much as possible where the case suits this form of conflict resolution.

Please get in touch to speak with our experienced family law team today on 0207 960 7110 or email us at

Useful links 

If I die does my child automatically go to his father uk

Unmarried fathers' rights uk

Financial rights of unmarried mothers

Financial provision for unmarried couples

Cohabiting rights with child

The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice and are provided for general information purposes only. The contents are copyright of Lee Bolton Monier-Williams LLP. All rights reserved.