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The timescale from the issue of divorce proceedings until the pronouncement of the Final Order (previously referred to as Decree Absolute) is likely to be at least 6 months.
You can apply for a divorce at any time, provided you have been married for one year and either you or your spouse live or have lived in England and Wales during the last year.
You need to submit an application to the Court with a declaration that your marriage has broken down irretrievably. This is ordinarily done online via a Court portal and requires a payment of a Court fee (currently set at £593).
You can apply for a divorce by yourself (sole applicant) or make a joint application with your ex-spouse (joint applicants). Alternatively, if you receive a divorce application from your spouse, you are called the respondent.
If you apply as a sole applicant, a copy of your application will be sent to your spouse. They will then have 14 days to respond and will need to complete an Acknowledgment of Service. If this document is not returned, a solicitor can assist with effecting service in a different way.
If you apply as joint applicants, you will both need to check and agree the details before your application is issued. One of you will be called applicant 1, and the other applicant 2. Applicant 1 is the party who will pay the Court fee and complete most of the application form. Both parties will need to file an Acknowledgment of Service. If you disagree or feel the other applicant is causing unreasonable delays, you can switch to a sole application further down the line (but it is important to remember that you cannot switch back to joint application again).
Where your spouse as filed for divorce against you, you should ordinarily receive the divorce application within 28 days of it being issued by the Court. The applicant can ask for permission to serve the application later than this in some circumstances.
If you are unsure how to complete and file the Acknowledgment of Service within the 14-day deadline, a solicitor can help you to do so.
In complex cases (or cases involving pensions, life policies or taxation issues) you may want to seek an agreement that the divorce process is delayed until all financial issues have been dealt with. Where an agreement is not forthcoming, you may need to apply to the Court asking for permission to delay. Again, a solicitor can help guide you through the process.
Under the new law, it is difficult to dispute an application for divorce. You may be able to do so if there are queries about the validity of the marriage or a dispute over jurisdiction.
After the Court has issued the application, there is a “cooling off” period of 20 weeks before an application for a Conditional Order can be made – this period cannot be shortened. A Conditional Order means that the Court accepts you are entitled to a divorce, but it does not mean your divorce is final. It is not finalised until you receive your Final Order.
Whilst waiting for this period to lapse, you can work with your spouse to try and reach an agreement in respect of the matrimonial finances (although this cannot be approved into a financial settlement – called a Consent Order – until a Conditional Order has been made). If you cannot reach an agreement amicably, you may wish to consider mediation. Solicitors can help you navigate this process if you feel unable to do so alone.
After the 20-week cooling-off period, your application for a Conditional Order will be considered by the Court and they will then provide a date for the Conditional Order to be made. This is normally issued electronically meaning there is no need to attend Court in person.
Six weeks and one day after the Court makes the Conditional Order, you can apply to the Court for a Final Order. The Final Order legally ends your marriage, and it is important you keep this document safe as you may need it in the future. If this is applied for after 12 months from the Conditional Order being made, the applicant will have to explain the reason for this to the Court.
If you are the respondent, you can apply after a further 3 months if the applicant has not done so.