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

14 January 2020

In England and Wales, there is no legal time limit on when you can start divorce proceedings, except that you must have been married for at least a year. Depending on the reason for your divorce, a period of separation may not be required before your divorce. In this article we explain when a period of separation is needed, and how long it needs to be if it is.

Grounds for Divorce

It’s quite common for people to say "grounds for divorce" but in England and Wales there is only one ground for divorce; that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

This irretrievable breakdown has to be proven based on one of five legally recognised reasons, or "facts of divorce."

These are:

  1. The other person has committed adultery
  2. The other person's behaviour is unreasonable so that you find it intolerable to live with them
  3. That you have been separated for two years and you both consent to the divorce
  4. That you have been separated for five years
  5. That the other party has deserted you

In some cases it may be that more than one of these facts applies, but you can only choose one and it's important to choose the most appropriate one for your circumstances. If you're seeking a divorce and are unsure of which fact to base it on, speak to a Divorce Solicitor.

If you are divorcing on the grounds of separation, then you and your spouse will need to have been separated for at least two years if you both agree to the divorce, and at least five years if you don't. It is not a requirement that you live in separate homes during this time, but you must not be living as a married couple.

If you and your spouse are not yet separated or have been separated for less than two years, you will only be able to divorce on the basis of adultery or unreasonable behaviour. For this reason, many couples choose to start divorce proceedings on the basis of unreasonable behaviour, even if they are still on very good terms. This is because it is often the only option available if they do not want to wait two years.

There have been growing calls in recent years to change this and remove the need to assign blame in divorce proceedings if a couple wishes to divorce without a period of separation. In September 2018, the UK Government confirmed plans to reform divorce law and bring in a 'no fault' option. The timeframe for these reforms has not yet been confirmed. In the meantime, the only option for couples to divorce without a period of separation is for one person to place blame on the other.

How to Divorce Amicably without Separation

While a period of separation may be a viable option for some couples, this won't necessarily be appropriate for everyone. There are implications to consider if you want to wait for two years to divorce as you will not be able to put a legally binding Financial Settlement in place in the meantime.

Inevitably, having to place the blame for the breakdown of the relationship on one person can create animosity and tension in an otherwise amicable breakup. Our Divorce Solicitors understand how damaging this can be and we can provide advice and guidance on how best to manage this situation whilst remaining on good terms with your spouse.

Our Divorce Solicitors can advise on the best course of action for you, financial matters relating to the divorce, and arrangements for any children you and your spouse have together.

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