Families and divorce

How long do you have to be separated before divorce in the UK?

Middle aged couple discussing their divorce during counselling

There are a number of reasons why marriages break down. Couples wishing to start the divorce process should take time to consider how to proceed and ways of keeping costs to a minimum.

If your marriage has irretrievably broken down, you will typically prove it by citing one or more of the 'five facts of divorce' (often referred to as ‘grounds for divorce’):

  1. Adultery (for opposite sex couples)
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion (for a minimum of two years)
  4. Two years separation (with consent)
  5. Five years separation (no consent required)

You do not need to be separated before starting divorce proceedings. However, you must have been married for at least one year and your marriage must be legally recognised in the UK.

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Do you have to be legally separated before divorce?

There is a process known as legal separation, but this is not necessary if you want to divorce. Legal separation is for couples who wish to separate without divorcing. This can perhaps be for religious reasons, or a couple may have been married for less than one year or may want more time to consider the future of their marriage. In fact, most couples will separate informally while they consider a divorce, which provides a useful opportunity to work out differences and attend mediation sessions at which an agreement may be reached amicably.

Can I get an annulment?

Annulment is another way of ending a marriage, but the procedure is more complicated and time-consuming. A marriage can be annulled at any time after your wedding (unlike a divorce, which requires you to wait for one year), but you will need to prove that your marriage was not valid.  

Can I divorce my partner without their consent?

You can, but you will still need to cite one of the Five Facts of Divorce. This could be adultery if your partner has had sex with someone of the opposite sex during your marriage, unreasonable behaviour if you have experienced physical violence or verbal abuse, desertion if your partner has left you without your agreement, or simply the fact that you have been separated for five years.

If both sides can be encouraged to sit down to discuss the reasons for the breakdown and the most appropriate Fact of Divorce for their particular circumstances, it is possible to end the marriage without unnecessary delay and cost. 

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Our family and divorce lawyers are based in:

  • Cambridgeshire: Cambridge
  • Essex: Brentwood, Chelmsford, and Saffron Walden
  • Hertfordshire: Bishop's Stortford and Royston 

But we can help you wherever you are in England and Wales.

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