How Long Must you be Separated Before Getting a Divorce?

There are still misconceptions around the amount of time you and your partner must be separated before you can apply for a divorce, and many people may not realise that this has changed thanks to the No-Fault Divorce law. 

In this guide, we’ll talk through the old rules for divorcing, how they have changed and the average time frame you can expect to wait before your divorce is finalised. 

Divorce waiting periods: Explained

Since the introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act in 2020, the process of divorcing has slowed down, with an average wait time of around 6 to 7 months. Before you make a divorce application, it’s important to understand how long you may be waiting for. This will help to keep any expectations realistic.

The application process 

If you decide to make a joint application to divorce, this could speed up the initial process since there is no opportunity for either spouse to dispute the divorce. Since the introduction of the no-fault divorce, when you make a sole application for divorce, your spouse can no longer defend a divorce. This can help to speed up the process and avoid significant delays incurred by court hearings. 

One issue you may face is trying to get a divorce without consent. If this is the case, it can add a significant amount of time and stress to the divorce process. 

After the application has been approved 

Once your divorce application has been approved, the law then requires yourself and your spouse to wait 20 weeks before you can advance onto the next step. This “cooling off period” was introduced with the no-fault divorce law in April 2022 to allow you and your partner to reflect and reconsider the divorce. This can be frustrating for those who have already been separated for some time, which is why it’s advisable to start your application sooner rather than later. 

After the 20 weeks have passed, it is then possible to apply for a conditional order. After you’ve received your conditional order from the court, you must then wait a minimum of 44 days before you can apply for a final order. 

The no-fault divorce timeframe

As we’ve mentioned, from application to finalisation, a no-fault divorce should roughly take 6 to 7 months to complete. However, this is assuming that there are no outstanding financial or childcare matters that need to be dealt with

The process generally goes as follows:

  1. The application for divorce is filed
  1. After 28 days from the date of the application, the court will serve the respondent or to both parties if it is a joint application.

    If the applicant wants to deal with an acknowledgement of service, it should be undertaken within 28 days from the date of issue of the application.

  2. Applicants will now have to wait a 20 week waiting period before they can apply for the conditional order. Provided that the acknowledgement of service was served within 18 weeks of the date of issue, applicants can apply for the conditional order.
  1. After the conditional order is submitted, you must wait 44 days before the application of the final order.

During all of the waiting periods, it is highly advised that couples try to resolve any practical aspects for the future, such as child arrangements and any financial issues.

How soon after separating can you divorce?

Prior to no-fault divorce, couples had to have been married for at least 12 months, and must have proved through one of the five “facts” that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. This included either:

  • Desertion for two years – This essentially means if your partner left you without any explanation for a period of two or more years, then you are able to apply to the courts for a divorce without consulting your partner.
  • Separation for five years or more – If you and your partner lived apart for five or more years, then you can apply for a divorce without the agreement of your spouse.

However, now thanks to no-fault divorce you only need to be married for at least 12 months, and there is no need to have been separated for a specific period of time. 

The law now only provides one basis for divorce, which is that the relationship has “broken down irretrievably”. 

Do you have to wait 2 years to get divorced?

No, you no longer need to wait two years to get a divorce. Under no-fault divorce, the minimum waiting period is at least 12 months from the date of your marriage. 

How soon can you start divorce proceedings after separating? 

As long as you have been married for at least 12 months, regardless of when you separated, you can start divorce proceedings any time. 

For example, if you got married but then decided to separate 6 months after, you would still have to wait another 6 months before you started any divorce proceedings. This is because you must meet the 12 month criteria. 

How long do you have to be separated before a divorce is automatic?

Whilst in the UK there is no such thing as an “automatic divorce”, there are two facts that can be used to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage without the need for the respondents consent. This makes the divorce much easier to achieve, and usually without any additional complications. 

The two facts that can constitute to an “automatic divorce” are the ones previously discussed: desertion for two years or separation for at least five years. Desertion must be without agreement and consent for the divorce is not needed from the respondent. You do not need consent either if you have been separated for five years.

Since the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, couples no longer need to rely on either of the facts above and so the idea of an “automatic divorce” is made even more redundant. As we’ve mentioned, you only need to be married for at least 12 months before you can start the divorce process. 

Whilst the process for no-fault divorce seems less complicated than the previous laws, we would still highly recommend having professional assistance from an experienced divorce solicitor. 

At VM Family Law, our divorce solicitors will be able to carefully support you through your divorce application and process, making sure we provide practical guidance every step of the way. 
For a friendly discussion about how our team could help you through a divorce, get in touch today.

Our goal is to help our clients solve their family legal matters as smoothly as possible.

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