Concept for - What is the cooling-off period in a divorce?

The divorce process welcomed a long overdue review in April 2022, with the introduction of “no-fault” divorce. This removed the blame element and “finger pointing” which was previously a precursor to commencing divorce proceedings. This has meant that since that time, the initial sting of commencing divorce proceedings and issuing a divorce application has been taken away, the thought being that this paves the way for a less litigious divorce journey.

The cooling-off period

The quid pro quo to the no-fault system, was that a 20 week “cooling-off” period was introduced. It was thought that couples may seek to reconcile during this time, particularly, given the no-fault nature of the divorce proceedings. This waiting period starts at the point the Respondent spouse responds to the Acknowledgment of Service. Once 20 weeks has passed, the Applicant spouse can make the application for Conditional Order which is the middle point of the divorce process and the point at which the Court can make orders over the finances. The divorce therefore effectively “halts” during this time, and to some it does feel like things are not moving forward.

In reality, spouses use this 20 week period to turn their attention to and concentrate on dealing with the financial settlement – this being considered alongside the divorce itself. Sometimes it is possible to reach an overall agreement during this time but, that will be entirely dependent on the approach of both parties, the complexity of the case, the time it takes to deal with disclosure, whether or not asset values are agreed and whether expert evidence is required.

The Court does have the discretion to expedite or shorten the cooling-off period and this will require a separate application being submitted to explain the reasons why. However, it is generally only in exceptional circumstances, for example serious ill health, that a Court will approve such an application.


The introduction of the cooling-off period does mean that it is usually the case that the divorce process lasts at least 9 months, and where there are more complex issues such as family business considerations, trusts issues or inherited wealth arguments, the time taken to resolve the matter will be much longer. It is helpful to be aware of the realistic timescales at the point of embarking on the process but we will of course discuss the likely timeframes with you, both in an initial meeting and throughout the process.

If you would like to discuss anything mentioned in this article, please contact our Family team.