So called “quickie divorces” and divorces that are quick are not necessarily one and the same thing. Quickie divorces simply refer to the procedure used when a divorce is undefended which is in fact the case in most divorces. This procedure typically takes around four to six months to complete which might not seem all that quick. So is there a way of speeding things up?
There are numerous pieces of legislation that govern how a divorce is carried out, the most important of which is the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Under section 1(5) Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, there is a two stage process for gaining a decree of divorce in England and Wales. Firstly, there must be a decree nisi which is a preliminary step giving the parties a right to divorce. This is then followed by a decree absolute which actually ends the marriage. The period between the two must be at least 6 weeks (this period was originally 6 months in the Act but was reduced by subsequent legislation). This 6 week period is compulsory and is a significant element in stretching out the timeline of the divorce process.
However, as well as making provision for a delay between the two decrees, section 1(5) of the Matrimonial Causes Act also provides the court with authority to expedite the process, granting it the power to reduce this general period of 6 weeks. Under the Family Procedure Rules, which govern the family courts, Practice Direction 7A allows any party to apply for directions to seek an early hearing of the decree absolute by making an application under Part 18.
Reducing the 6 week period
Unsurprisingly, given the already short waiting period of 6 weeks, applications to shorten it further are generally rare. However, one recent example arose in the case of Solovyev v Solovyeva . In this case, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, ruled that a divorcing couple could be granted decree absolute two days after he pronounced decree nisi. The facts of the case were somewhat unusual however.
In this case the parties had been married in Russia since 2002. In 2012 they had undergone Russian divorce procedures at the Russian Consulate in London and it was accepted beyond question that they were divorced under Russian law. However, in May 2014, Sir James Munby found they were not divorced under English law. Although they were divorced at the Russian Consulate this was not treated as a foreign country for the purposes of English Marriage law, so the foreign divorce could not recognised in England and Wales. The husband subsequently applied for a divorce in the usual manner but requested the divorce absolute be expedited.
In a second hearing less than a month later, Sir James Munby decided that the circumstances justified a expedited period between decree nisi and decree absolute, which was granted two days later. This application was supported by the husband’s former spouse.
It is clear that urgent divorces are possible if there is a strong reason to expedite the decree absolute. The Solovyev case was unusual though in that the parties were legally divorced in the eyes of the country in which they were married, but not under English law. The circumstances of the individuals concerned were also exceptional – the wife had re-married an American citizen and moved to the US and the husband was trying to marry his new fiancé in the UK. While the case does show that an expedited process it is possible, it is likely to be the exception. For those who simply want their quickie divorce to be even quicker, applying to have it expedited is unlikely to be successful without good reason.