The timescale from the issue of divorce proceedings until the pronouncement of the Decree Absolute is usually around 4-5 months. It takes so long because the legislation governing the procedure was enacted in the 1960’s when attitudes to divorce were different and Parliament wanted to build some delays into the procedure in order to give the divorcing couple time to reconsider their decision.
Step 1 – The Divorce Petition
You can file a divorce petition at any time providing you can prove one of the five grounds for divorce, have been married for one year and either you or your spouse live or have lived in England and Wales during the last year.
If there are children involved then a further document called the Statement of Arrangements for the Children needs to be filed with the Court when submitting the divorce petition. This document asks for information which the Court will then consider, when deciding whether to grant Decree Nisi, in order to satsify itself that the arrangements made for looking after the children are satisfactory.
Step 2 – Acknowledgement of Service
Once the divorce petition has been issued by the Court by the party applying for the divorce (the Petitioner) and sent to the other spouse (the Respondent), the Respondent will need to file an Acknowledgement of Service form with the Court. The Acknowledgement of Service form will confirm the Respondent’s position with respect to the divorce proceedings – this will involve questions about jurisdiction and costs. The Acknowledgement of Service form should be returned to the Court within seven working days from the date when it was received. There may be technical points at this time and it is recommended that both parties have obtained legal advice at this stage.
If the Acknowledgement of Service form is not returned by the Respondent then there are a number of somewhat complicated possibilities and procedures. If these procedures are necessary then they could add significantly to the costs of the divorce as well as delaying the progress of the divorce itself.
Step 3 – Decree Nisi application
Once the Respondent has returned the Acknowledgement of Service form to the Court it will be processed and sent to the Petitioner (or more probably, the solicitor for the Petitioner). Providing the Acknowledgement of Service form indicates that the divorce will not be defended, it will be possible for the Petitioner to apply for Decree Nisi to be pronounced. This application involves the Petitioner completing a sworn statement which confirms that the contents of the divorce petition are correct and identifies the Respondent’s signature on the Acknowledgement of Service form.
Approximately 3 weeks after the application is sent to the Court a hearing will be listed. At this hearing the Court will declare Decree Nisi. It is generally unnecessary to attend this hearing and after it has taken place the Court will send out a sealed copy of the Decree Nisi to both parties.
The Decree Nisi enables the Court to make certain financial orders but at this stage the parties will still be married. It is only when the Decree Absolute is declared that the parties will be divorced.
Step 4 – Decree Absolute application
It will be possible for the Petitioner to apply for the Decree Absolute after 6 weeks and a day after the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi.
It is only once the Decree Absolute has been pronounced that you will be legally divorced.
Sometimes there are some technical reasons which may mean that the Petitioner wishes to delay applying for the Decree Aboslute. This will usually be because of a pension, life policy or some tax issue.