A law firm chief has highlighted the worrying extent of delays faced by divorce practitioners - backed by official quarterly figures, which show that couples can face up to 51 weeks to officially split. This is despite the introduction of online applications and centralised working. 

According to the Ministry of Justice's latest family statistics, divorce petitions were down by 4% between January and March this year, compared to the same period last year. However, those granted a decree nisi this year waited, on average, 26.7 weeks. The average time from petition to decree absolute was 51.3 weeks.

Tony Roe

Tony Roe

Tony Roe, principal of Reading firm Tony Roe Solicitors, told the Gazette that divorcing couples need closure. 'Moving on with their lives is crucial. Moreover, the longer it takes to get decree nisi, the later any court can impose or approve a settlement,' he added. A decree nisi must be in place to empower the court to make a financial order.

Roe was compelled to write to HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood this month over delays his clients were facing with the Bury St Edmunds regional divorce centre, which covers London and the South East. 

An information bulletin posted by HMCTS on 19 June to help practitioners assess how long it will take for the centre to process work stated that answers to applications received on 30 May would be processed by the administrative team in approximately 59 days.

Acland-Hood told Roe: 'We know this is not good enough - we have been short of staff in Bury, but should have picked up the issues earlier - we are now using extra staff (and help from other divorce centres) to sort this, and you should start to see improvement soon.'

Last month the Ministry of Justice announced that it had introduced a fully digital divorce application process, which is expected to eliminate up to 13,000 hours of time spent by court staff checking petitions.