19 October 2013, by Taylor King Family Law Solicitors
Gossip columns often report that one celebrity couple or another has been granted a “quickie” divorce, including most recently that of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi.
Many online services offer quick divorces as if they were different to a divorce offered elsewhere.
In reality there is no such thing as a “quickie” divorce. All divorces in England and Wales take approximately the same time from when the petition was issued.
The length of the process will depend on how quickly the other spouse can be ‘served’ with the divorce petition and thereafter whether the proceedings are contested or undefended.
Service of the petition
The court needs to know that the other spouse (called ‘the respondent’) is aware of the divorce proceedings. Once a divorce petition is issued it is sent by the court to the respondent together with a form called the ‘acknowledgement of service’. The respondent has to complete this form and send it back to the court as evidence that he/she has received the papers (that he/she has been “served”). If the respondent does not do this, it can cause delays in the process.
Personal service of the divorce petition
Usually, when the acknowledgement of service has not been sent by the respondent, arrangements have to be made for him or her to be personally served with the divorce papers. This is done by a process server, who is a person who visits the respondent and personally hands the divorce papers to him or her. A statement from the process server confirming personal service on the respondent is sufficient to enable the divorce to proceed without any further involvement of the respondent.
Dispensing with service
Difficulties can arise where petitioner does not know the whereabouts of their spouse. In certain circumstances an application can be made to the court to “dispense with service”, which means the divorce can proceed without the other party being served. For example, Taylor King recently acted for a client whose wife had emigrated shortly after separation and after making extensive enquiries was unable to ascertain her address. In those circumstances the court gave permission for the divorce to proceed without serving the respondent wife.
Service by alternative means
The court can make various orders with regard to service of the Respondent by alternative means. These include granting permission for the respondent to be served at their place of employment or a family address. Such an order is very useful where the respondent has moved back to his/her country of origin. More recently the courts have given permission for the respondent to be served by email or on Facebook. These orders require an application to the court, which can extend the process of obtaining the divorce.
Obtaining the decree nisi
In most cases, however, the respondent returns the acknowledgement of service. The petitioner will then file a statement in support of his/her petition and attach to that statement a copy of the acknowledgement of service which is evidence the respondent has been served.
If the respondent wants to defend the petition he/she needs to file an ‘answer’. Almost all divorces proceed uncontested. Contested divorces are very expensive and the fact that one party has issued the divorce proceedings indicates that they regard the marriage as over.
For uncontested divorces, the court lists the case for a decree nisi hearing. This is not a hearing in the sense that both parties have to attend to provide evidence to the District Judge. It is merely a paperwork exercise when the District Judge declares that the petitioner is entitled to their decree nisi. The court has already decided that the petitioner is entitled to the decree before it is listed for the hearing. It is a common misconception of clients that the Judge makes the decision at the hearing and that their decree nisi could be refused.
In the rare case of a contested divorce, the court will list a hearing to hear from the parties and decide whether the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Built-in delay period
After the decree nisi has been declared there is a ‘cooling off’ period of six weeks and one day before the petitioner can apply for the decree nisi to be made absolute. The decree absolute brings the marriage to an end. There is often a misconception in the press that the decree nisi hearing terminates the marriage.
The time it takes to get a divorce is controlled to a significant extent by the court itself and how long they take to process paperwork. Because of the built in delays in the divorce process, i.e. waiting six weeks and one day between the decree nisi and applying for the decree absolute, the average undefended divorce will take between 4-5 months.
Read more about the decree nisi and decree absolute.