Divorce – How long will it take?

On the 28 March 2019 the family court statistics for October to December 2018 were published. The statistics relating to the average duration of a divorce show that it is now taking significantly longer for parties to obtain a divorce.

According to the figures provided in 2006, the “average time” from the date the divorce petition was issued to the date the decree nisi was made was 23 weeks, but as of 2018 this has increased to 29.1 weeks. The average time from the date of divorce petition to the date of decree nisi being made has jumped up by five weeks from 2017 to 2018 alone. Furthermore, the average time from the date the divorce petition is issued to the date the decree absolute is made has increased from 42.1 weeks in 2006 to 54.3 weeks in 2018, which is over a year!

The above statistics do not take into account that currently it can take up to a month for the divorce petition to be issued from after the date of filing.

The reported court delays are not only limited to the progression of the divorce itself, but in our local area we are finding it is taking up to three months (sometimes more) to receive an endorsed order from after the date of filing. Historically, we would have advised our clients that the average would be six weeks, but this is no longer the case.

The reason for the delay is likely to be due to the recent financial cuts in respect of the funding of our court system, including the introduction of regional divorce centres, who are struggling to keep up with the level of work. Indeed, West Midlands Regional Divorce Unit had previously been transferring divorce papers to other local courts, such as Bradford family court, in an attempt to tackle the backlog.

How does this impact upon those seeking a divorce?

For most parties they would rather a prompt and amicable divorce and the longer the divorce takes, the more emotionally draining it can be upon them. There can also be financial implications. Many legal representatives will advise their client against implementing any financial settlement until a financial order has been endorsed by a court. A judge cannot consider and endorse a proposed court order until the decree nisi has been made within divorce proceedings. Without the ability to implement what is often an agreed financial order the parties are stuck in limbo and unable to achieve a financial clean break and move on with their lives.

What steps can be taken to progress matters?

The statistics show that where both parties are legally represented the average duration of the divorce is reduced. There are reasons for this; in particular legal representatives are more likely than litigants in person to file documents correctly and in a prompt fashion. Thus avoiding any delay caused by papers being returned for amendments and re-filing. Secondly, legal representatives will endeavour to resolve financial matters in a prompt and amicable fashion, and hope to avoid what can be costly and time-consuming contested court proceedings in respect of a financial remedy.

A legal representative will also be more mindful of the steps needed to implement an order and bear this in mind when drafting the papers. For example, there are cases where a financial order is reliant upon one party obtaining a mortgage offer and the said mortgage offer is due to expire shortly. In such instances a legal representative will advise parties to apply for the matter to be expedited so to hopefully avoid the mortgage offer expiring whilst the court order papers are with the court for the judge’s consideration.

In extremely special circumstances, for example, where one party has a terminal illness or where one party is pregnant by another man and wishes to dissolve the marriage before giving birth, then it is possible to apply for an expedited divorce. Again, a legal representative can advise of the appropriate way forward.

However, overall unless further funding is given to courts so that they have the resources to deal with the public’s demand or there are major changes to the legislation regarding divorce proceedings, it is feared that these delays will continue to increase year on year.