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How Long Before Divorce is Automatic?

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There is no specific time frame or type of situation that grants an “automatic” divorce, nor is it currently a part of any UK law.

When an individual or separating couple wants to apply for divorce, the petitioner must provide proof that there is an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage by using one of five facts. This fact will be used to place blame on the respondent.

Here we will discuss the five facts used to prove an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage, including the two which do not require the consent of the respondent, how no-fault divorce will change the situation and why it is important to have professional guidance and support from a divorce lawyer.

What constitutes to an “automatic” divorce?

As explained above, there is no such concept as an automatic divorce in the UK. However, there are two facts that can be used to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage without the need for the respondent’s consent, making the divorce easier to achieve and usually without additional complications.

The only downfall that can be considered with these two facts is that there is a specific time frame before the petitioner can file a divorce petition, meaning many people often choose to rely on the other available facts that often come with many challenges.

The two facts that can constitute to an “automatic” divorce are desertion for at least two years and separation for at least five years.

Desertion – Where your spouse has left you for at least two years out of the last two and a half years. This must be without agreement, for no good reason and with the intention of them wanting to end your relationship altogether. Where this applies, consent for divorce is not needed from the respondent.

Separation – Where you and your spouse have lived separately for the last five years, you can petition for divorce whether they consent or not.

What are the other divorce facts?

There are five divorce facts that prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The other three facts are:

  • Adultery – Where your spouse has had sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex, you can use adultery as the reason for the marriage breakdown. However, divorce must be applied for within six months of you being aware of the infidelity, and it must be proved, making it an extremely challenging fact to use.
  • Unreasonable behaviour – Where your spouse acts in such a way that you cannot be reasonably expected to live with them, e.g. domestic abuse, lack of sexual intimacy, etc.
  • Separation for at least two years – This fact is similar to the fact of separation for at least five years. However, the key difference is that the respondent must consent to the divorce.

Whilst desertion and separation for at least five years seem easier, especially where you expect complications to arise, it can be a considerably long time to wait to start your divorce proceedings. The quickest way to obtain a divorce is most usually done through using the fact of unreasonable behaviour. 

What is no fault divorce?

Originally announced in February 2019, under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, ‘no fault’ divorce is due to come into force from April 2022, the first amendment to the divorce law since 1973.

Under the new law, separating couples will no longer need to rely on the five facts to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Instead, the statement itself will be sufficient enough to grant divorce. Additionally, the new act will not require either party involved in the marriage to take the blame for the divorce, instead allowing separating couples to jointly apply for divorce together. It also provides the potential to minimise conflict as a result.

Further changes being made to the divorce law include:

  • Update of the legal divorce language, for example:
    • ‘Decree Nisi’ will become ‘Conditional Order’
    • ‘Decree Absolute’ will become ‘Final Order’
    • ‘Petitioner’ will become the ‘Applicant’
  • Inability to contest a divorce or dissolution
  • Introduction of a minimum of 20 weeks from between the proceedings start to the ‘Conditional Order’

Will I still need to work with a solicitor for no fault divorce?

Whilst no-fault divorce sounds less complicated and more straightforward in comparison to the current divorce laws, we would still recommend having assistance from an experienced divorce solicitor.

A divorce solicitor will be able to carefully support you with the drafting of the divorce petition, making sure to provide practical guidance to sidestep any potential pitfalls, as well as assisting with negotiating financial settlements and childcare arrangements if necessary.

Speak with our divorce solicitors in Hoddesdon & Broxbourne

For a friendly, informal discussion about how our family lawyers can help you get the right divorce settlement for your needs and those of your loved ones, please get in touch.