The myth of the quickie divorce

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By Daniel Russell

I’d like to start this article by listing some things that we’ve grown up believing are true, but actually aren’t.

  1. An Iron Maiden was often used to torture people in Medieval times.
  2. Walt Disney invented Mickey Mouse
  3. Women’s Libbers burned their bras in public in the 1970s
  4. Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb
  5. It’s possible to get a quickie divorce in the UK

 While I could happily spend an hour or two discussing the real purpose of the Iron Maiden in the 18th Century or insisting that Ub Iwerks was responsible for first drawing the world’s most famous mouse, it’s the myth at the bottom of the list that I’m going to deal with here.

Let’s put this very plainly: it is simply not possible for anyone to get what the media is so fond of calling a ‘quickie’ divorce.

The amount of money you earn or the influence you wield makes absolutely no difference to how long you must wait to end a marriage in England and Wales. When it comes to divorce, at least, all men and women are created equal.

In its voracious pursuit of consumers, the media has developed a nasty habit of creating the impression that as long as your face is all over the telly or you’re a Russian oligarch with an inconvenient wife and an expensive mistress habit you can simply waft into a divorce court and secure spousal freedom in less time than it takes to watch the adverts in Britain’s Got Talent.

The bad news for anyone who’s hoping to pop into court during their lunch hour, pick up a Decree Absolute from an accommodating judge and get back for the 2pm team meeting is that you can’t.

So how long does it take to get a divorce in England and Wales? As with many things in law, the better question to ask is how long is a piece of string? The answer to which is, as long as it needs to be. As a ballpark average, though, most divorces take between six and nine months from the time of petition to reach a conclusion.

Add in disputes over settlement, provision for children in the marriage and court delays and that could be longer still. In some cases, where the process is amicable, no children are involved, the criteria to allow divorce have been met and the parties involved have a clear idea of what any settlement looks like, it can be as little as five months.

The key milestones in the divorce process are the Decree Nisi, which confirms the couple’s entitlement to divorce, and the Decree Absolute, which is the order to formally end the marriage.

The absolute minimum amount of time between these two events is six weeks and one day, so when you see in The Sun that it took a Premier League footballer just thirty seconds to end his marriage, you’d be well-advised to read the story whilst pinching a good deal of salt.

And where does this misrepresentation come from? It’s likely that what the media is reporting as ‘a divorce’ is actually the time it takes for a judge to issue one or other of the Decree Nisi or Decree Absolute decisions – neither of which happen without a decent amount of time having been spent in leading up to them.

And whilst the marriage can be legally ended in as little as six months, assuming there are no delays, many divorces are complicated, with labyrinthine financial affairs to be sorted, child arrangements to be determined and protracted negotiations to be carried out.

So, the quickie divorce is a myth and for anyone who’s considering starting divorce proceedings, it’s little comfort to know that it’s one of the very few times when you and a movie star will be treated in exactly the same way.

If you really want to end your marriage as quickly as the law will allow, then the best course of action is to hire a divorce solicitor who you trust and like and then to try to keep the dialogue with your spouse and their legal team as open as you can in the hope of achieving consensus on the key issues in as little time as possible.