How Long Can a Spouse Drag Out a Divorce in the UK?

Divorce not only marks the legal termination of a marriage but also has a profound emotional impact on those involved.  For many, the ideal scenario is a quick and peaceful resolution, letting both parties move ahead with minimal stress.

However, reality can be far more complex, particularly when both spouses are not on the same page. This article will discuss the usual timeframe for divorce proceedings in the UK and how long a spouse can drag out the process.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in the UK?

The timeline for a divorce in the UK can vary significantly, largely dependent on each case’s specific circumstances and the courts’ current workload handling divorce applications. Earlier, the process from filing for divorce to reaching its finalisation could be anticipated to take around four to six months.

However, with the initiation of the no-fault divorce law in April 2022, things have changed. The new system enables partners to get a divorce without assigning blame, promoting a more peaceful path to separation. Despite its intentions to streamline proceedings, this change has also influenced the expected duration of the divorce process.  Consulting UK divorce lawyers can provide a clearer understanding of this evolving landscape.

Currently, no-fault divorce proceedings require a minimum of 26 weeks (approximately six months) to complete. This period includes a mandatory waiting period designed to give couples ample time to consider their decision and, if possible, agree on important arrangements like financial settlements and child custody without the pressure of a rushed timeline.

Factors That Can Extend the Divorce Timeline

The journey through divorce is seldom a straight path, with several factors affecting the timeline significantly. These include:

Disagreements on Financial Settlements

One of the most common reasons for prolonged divorce proceedings is disputes over financial settlements. The division of matrimonial assets and debts can be complex, especially when significant assets or their value and distribution disagreements are involved.

When parties cannot agree on a financial settlement, the process may require mediation, negotiation through solicitors, or, in some cases, a court decision. Each step adds time to the divorce timeline.

Custody Battles

Disagreements over child custody arrangements are another big factor in extending the divorce process. Determining where the children will live, visitation rights, and how parental responsibilities will be shared can be emotionally charged issues that are not easily resolved.

When parents cannot reach an amicable agreement, these matters may also need to be settled in court, requiring additional hearings and decisions that can significantly delay the finalisation of the divorce.

Lack of Cooperation

The process can be further delayed by a lack of cooperation from one spouse. This can range from not responding to divorce petitions in a timely manner to refusing to provide necessary financial documentation or engaging in mediation sessions.

Such behaviour slows proceedings and can lead to additional legal steps, such as court orders to compel cooperation, adding more time and stress to the divorce process.

Complex Assets

The presence of complex assets within the marital estate can extend the divorce timeline. This includes businesses, investments, and overseas properties that require accurate valuation and, often, specialist advice.

There are many factors considered when dividing assets. This detailed process requires negotiations and, sometimes, expert assessments or valuations, which are time-consuming. Additionally, if these assets are in dispute, it may lead to further legal challenges and, consequently, a longer divorce process.

Changes in Circumstances

Significant changes in circumstances during the divorce process, such as financial status, relocation, or remarrying, can lead to amendments in divorce agreements or settlements. Extending the timeline may require additional negotiations and potentially more court hearings.


If one party disagrees with a court’s decision regarding any aspect of the divorce, including financial settlements or child custody arrangements, they may choose to appeal the decision. The appeals process can significantly delay the final order of the divorce, as it involves additional hearings and the potential for further legal argumentation.

Administrative Delays

Courts can experience backlogs and administrative delays, particularly in times of high demand or due to staffing issues. These delays affect how quickly documents are processed, and hearings are scheduled, independently of the complexity of the divorce case itself.

How Long Can a Spouse Drag Out the Divorce in the UK?

There is no predetermined duration for how long a spouse can extend a divorce. While the legal system strives for efficiency, it also allows space for the fair and thorough handling of disputes, which can sometimes be misused by a spouse. 

Dragging out a divorce refers to intentionally prolonging the legal process of dissolving a marriage. This can occur when one spouse is unresponsive or actively engages in tactics to delay proceedings, such as avoiding the Acknowledgement of Service (AOS), refusing to agree on financial settlements or custody arrangements, or avoiding court dates. 

The motives behind such behaviour can range from personal or financial gain to emotional reluctance to finalise the end of the marriage. This situation can significantly extend the time and cost of the divorce process, creating additional stress for both parties involved.

Direct refusal to engage in the divorce process can be a substantial roadblock. The stress and delays resulting from such refusal can be mitigated by the support and legal advice of a skilled and reliable divorce or family law solicitor, who can navigate the legal system to minimise delays and move the process forward.

Read also: The Importance of Disclosure in Divorce Proceedings in the UK

What To Do When a Spouse Is Intentionally Delaying the Divorce

It is recommended that the situation be approached by understanding and recognising the emotional challenges involved, especially if children and co-parenting are involved. However, if the lack of cooperation persists and you believe the delay is unreasonable, the court has several measures at its disposal. 

For instance, after applying for a divorce, if your spouse or partner does not respond to the divorce or dissolution petition delivered via email or traditional mail, a process server can arrange for personal service of the documents. This individual will create a formal witness statement confirming the service of papers. 

With this proof, you can request the court to recognise ‘deemed service,’ allowing the proceedings to advance even without the other party’s filling ‘Acknowledgment of Service.’ The court can also order the uncooperative party to cover the costs incurred due to non-compliance. Such steps ensure the process moves forward and may serve as a deterrent against further delays.

Let Our Family Lawyers Help You Expedite the Divorce Proceedings!

The journey through divorce can be emotionally taxing and fraught with uncertainty. At Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, we’re committed to providing clarity and a sense of direction during these challenging times. 

Our experienced family lawyers are dedicated to guiding you through the process with the care and efficiency you deserve. We strive to simplify and expedite your divorce proceedings to resolve matters swiftly and with your best interests at heart. 

Reach out to us, and let’s work together to turn this challenging period into a step towards a hopeful future.


To get a divorce quickly in England and Wales, both you and your spouse must agree to the divorce and work cooperatively. Begin the divorce procedure by filing a divorce petition and ensuring all documents, including the marriage certificate, are in order. 

You can remarry as soon as you have the decree absolute, which legally concludes your marriage or civil partnership. It is a good idea to hire a divorce lawyer before remarrying to ensure all issues are resolved and you remain in control of the process.

A Decree Nisi is an interim order issued by the court confirming that a partner has met all necessary legal and procedural criteria for a divorce. Note that the marriage still remains legally intact after getting a decree nisi, and additional actions are required to finalise the divorce. 

If you believe your spouse is deliberately delaying the divorce process, you should seek advice from a specialist divorce solicitor who can provide legal guidance on how to proceed.

Yes, a divorce can take over a year if your spouse is uncooperative, particularly if they refuse to acknowledge service or engage in the process. Seeking advice from specialist family law solicitors can help you manage court proceedings and apply for the necessary orders to keep the divorce moving forward.

Ask our Expert Legal Team

At Gulbenkian Andonian, we pride ourselves on “Excellence, Experience and Efficiency”. With over 35 years of experience on your side, our team of London based lawyers and solicitors have a wealth of experience advising individuals, families and businesses of all sizes to find clarity on UK law.

Call us on +44 (0) 207 269 9590 or fill out the form below. We usually reply within a few hours.

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