COVID-19 Court Delays: Can I Still Get A Divorce?

By Francesca Davey

Senior Associate

Papers and court statistics are now confirming what we have been experiencing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – that the usual court delays have been significantly extended.

While many courts were shut entirely, others were operating with limited numbers of staff and judges to deal with the most urgent cases as a priority.

This has created a backlog of work to be processed. The online process is still running, but more slowly than usual. In many cases, it is not possible to get an update on an ongoing case from the court.

How Bad Is It?

While there is more delay across the board, response times can vary from court to court, and sometimes, from case to case; so, it can be hard to predict how long your case will take.

At the moment, we are seeing first hearings listed about four months away from application. Paperwork delays for things such as applications for Decree Nisi can be up to several months, and this extends the process significantly.

Does This Mean I Can’t Get Divorced?

You can still separate, start the process of divorce and make headway with the process of financial settlement, although it might take you longer than usual to get your final Decree of divorce.

Depending on your circumstances, you may need to wait until the final Decree of divorce is granted before you can transfer any property under your settlement agreements, but you can take advice on the right timing.

You will not be able to re-marry until you are finally divorced, but you can still separate and start making arrangements to move on.

Should I Wait to Start Divorce Proceedings?

Bear in mind that we are about 15 months away from the implementation of a ‘no-fault’ divorce, and you might want to consider whether it is better in your circumstances to wait for that; given the likelihood of a delayed process in the interim.

If your situation is urgent and you need to separate as soon as possible, there are other ways that we can help you cover your legal positions after separation, but before you are officially divorced.

While you do need a court to grant your Decree Absolute (which ends your marriage), you might be able to move on with the financial side of things without court involvement.

We always look at, and consider, out of court resolution processes to help you get finality in the final side of things – whether this is by mediation, arbitration, roundtable discussions, private neutral evaluations with a judge, or other means.

Will the New ‘Nightingale’ Courts Make a Difference?

We hope so – more courts and more staff should help to clear some of the backlog and get things moving again. Although it is not yet clear how they will prioritise work or respond to any public queries.

For more information and to find out how we can help you, please contact a member of our Family Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.