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Claire Cleary, Associate solicitor

Can I have a quickie divorce?

It is regularly reported that celebrities have obtained a ‘quickie divorce’. Louise and Jamie Redknapp are a recent example. However, is it actually possible to obtain a quickie divorce?

The reality is that the so-called quickie divorce is a myth.

There are procedural rules to comply with, and other practical issues that affect the speed at which a divorce can progress.

Divorce – The procedure

The ground for divorce is ‘irretrievable breakdown’, and one must prove one of five facts to support this. Unless the parties have been separated for more than two years, the only facts available are `adultery’ or ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

Adultery is difficult to prove, and behaviour is most commonly cited.

Lawyers negotiate what incidents of behaviour should be cited and how they should be worded, to agree a petition and to avoid defended proceedings.

This negotiation inevitably takes time. The process before the divorce petition is issued can take weeks.

The family courts in England are under-resourced and often inefficient. Once a petition is lodged, it often falls into a ‘backlog’ waiting to be issued.

The control of the process is out of the hands of the Petitioner. Unless there is a good reason and sometimes a formal application to expedite (for example, to seize jurisdiction) the court will normally take several weeks to process the petition.

The divorce petition is then served upon the Respondent by post. They have seven days to return the ‘Acknowledgement of Service’. The divorce cannot proceed until this document is returned.

Sometimes petitions go astray in the post, which means that further copies need to be issued and served. This causes delay.

The Petitioner needs to consider alternative methods of service (by court bailiff or process server) if the Respondent fails to return the Acknowledgment of Service.

If the Petitioner knows that the Respondent has received the petition and has failed to return the Acknowledgement, further separate court applications may be necessary. This all adds to the delay.

Assuming the Respondent does return the Acknowledgement of Service, it is then processed by the court. Again, it disappears into the court system and can take weeks to be processed.

The Petitioner can apply for the ‘Decree Nisi’, the first stage of the divorce, once the Acknowledgement of Service has been received from the court.

The court determines whether the Petitioner has proved the contents of the petition. A ‘Certificate of Entitlement to a Decree’ is issued by the court, and the case is then listed for the ‘pronouncement’ of Decree Nisi.

It is the pronouncement of Decree Nisi, which is read out in open court, that the press refers to by the ‘quickie divorce’. However, the Decree Nisi is not the divorce. It is the first stage of the process (and which has already taken some considerable time to get to).

The Petitioner is unable to apply for Decree Absolute to dissolve the marriage until six weeks have elapsed from the day after pronouncement of the Decree Nisi.

The Respondent can apply, but must wait a further three months from the date at which the Petitioner would be entitled to apply. This amounts to some four and a half months.

A straight forward divorce, can realistically take up to three to six months. It is hardly a ‘quick’ process.

Even if there are no financial matters to be dealt with, and the parties have no assets, it is usual practice for a ‘clean break’ consent order to be prepared. This adds another layer of work, and adds to the time it takes to resolve matters.

If there are matrimonial assets to be dealt with, it is not advisable to dissolve the marriage and to obtain Decree Absolute until financial matters have been resolved.

Financial Remedy Proceedings are separate proceedings that can take nine to twelve months or longer to resolve. Again, there is reliance on the court efficiency, which has a bearing on how quickly those proceedings can move forward. There is a detailed financial disclosure process. If the parties’ finances are complex, expert evidence may be required which adds to the time and expense of concluding matters.

It is highly likely that despite reports, the Redknapps are still negotiating financial matters, and if so, they are unlikely to dissolve the marriage until there is a final order regarding the division of their finances.

Whilst is may sound appealing to potential Petitioners, the ‘quickie divorce’ does not really exist. The divorce process is not as straight forward as the media would seek to portray, and one should always seek legal advice before embarking on the process.



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