How Long Do We Have to be Separated Before We Can Divorce?

Currently, the amount of time you have to wait before you can divorce depends on the grounds for your divorce.

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By Rachel Ward - 30th April 2021

Currently, the amount of time you have to wait before you can divorce depends on the grounds for your divorce. If you do not want to rely on adultery or unreasonable behaviour, then you will have to be separated for at least two years. However, this is set to change in the future when England and Wales move to a no-fault divorce system.

Criteria for divorce

If you want to get a divorce in England or Wales, then you must have been married for at least one year. The marriage must be legally recognised in the UK. The UK must be your permanent home, or at least the permanent home of your spouse. Finally, you must be able to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.

At the time of writing, you have to show that your marriage has irretrievably broken down by proving that one of the following has taken place:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. Two years’ separation
  5. Five years’ separation

Together, these are known as the five facts of divorce. The first three – adultery, unreasonable behaviour and desertion – are fault-based reasons for divorce. In other words, one party is blaming the other for the breakdown of the marriage.

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When can I start divorce proceedings? 

There is no legal time limit on when you can start divorce proceedings, so long as you have been married for one year.

However, the amount of time you must wait depends on the grounds for your divorce. If you can prove adultery or unreasonable behaviour, then you can begin as soon as you separate. There is no such thing as a ‘quickie divorce’. Even an uncontested divorce usually takes about six months to finalise.

If you want to petition in a non-litigious way, “on a no-fault” basis, you must wait for two years and the other party must consent to the divorce. You can have periods of living together as long as they do not add up to more than six months and you have been apart for at least two years altogether.

If the other party is unwilling to agree, and again there is no reason for the separation, then you must have lived separately for more than five years. You cannot defend this petition but one can ask the court not to grant the final decree because of a major financial or other type of hardship.

Many people rely upon adultery or unreasonable behaviour to avoid having to wait two years.

Adultery

You can name the other person with whom the adultery has taken place, but this is probably best avoided as emotions will already be very high. Adultery is defined as sexual intercourse between a married person and a person of the opposite sex who is not their spouse.

If your husband or wife admits to adultery and agrees to the divorce proceedings, the divorce is likely to be accepted by the court. If your spouse does not admit to committing the adultery, you will need to provide evidence. For this reason, many parties rely upon unreasonable behaviour and cite the adultery as one of those behaviours.

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Unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour can include a wide range of behaviour from domestic abuse to failing to provide love and attention to one another.

Upcoming legal changes

The law is complex and may have changed since this guide was produced. The no fault rules are set to be reformed this year, altering the way in which divorce works in England and Wales. Instead of having to provide evidence of adultery, unreasonable behaviour or separation, a couple will instead be asked to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown.

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We recommend that you get expert legal advice before you start divorce proceedings.

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