Divorce time limits

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Time limits for divorce in England and Wales


Crace Clark provides a brief guide to time limits for divorce. For details of how we can help you simply call our free legal helpline on 0808 139 1606 or email us at [email protected]


In England and Wales, there is no legal time limit on when you can start divorce proceedings. However, you must have been married for at least a year.

Depending on the reason for your divorce, a period of separation may be required before you are able to petition for divorce.

How long do you need to be separated for to start divorce proceedings?

In order to petition for a divorce, the marriage must have irretrievably broken down. This irretrievable breakdown has to be proven, based on one of five grounds:

a) Adultery.

b) Unreasonable behaviour.

c) Two years separation with consent.

d) Five years separation.

e) Desertion.

To rely on ground ‘a’ or ‘b’ no period of separation is needed. However, in order to rely on ground ‘c’ you must have lived apart for at least two years prior to commencing divorce proceedings. However, this can be in the same household provided you have been living ‘separate lives.’  This can be shown by having separate sleeping, eating and financial arrangements and both parties must confirm this in writing.

In order to rely on ground ‘d’ both parties must have lived ‘separate lives’ at least five years. This differs to ground c, as the other party does not have to agree to the divorce.

In order to rely on ground ‘e’, one person must have left the other without agreement and good reason for a period of more than two years in the previous two and a half years. This ground can still be relied upon if both parties have lived together for up to six months in the past two and a half years.

As a result of these necessary periods of separation many people 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, other than adultery if they do not want to wait two years.

How long must I wait for my divorce to be finalised?

No divorce is finalised until the decree absolute is issued by the court. The decree absolute is the legal document that ends your marriage. You need to wait at least 43 days (6 weeks and 1 day) after the date of the decree nisi before you can apply for a decree absolute. The decree nisi is a provisional decree of divorce pronounced when the court is satisfied that the legal and procedural requirements to obtain a divorce have been met.

Once the decree absolute application has been received by the court, the divorce will be finalised within approximately two to three weeks. Once received, the parties are officially divorced and free to remarry, if they wish to do so.

Is there a time limit on financial proceedings?

In relation to financial claims following divorce there is no limitation period. Claims can be made at any time, so long as the claiming party has not remarried. However, it is always recommended that financial matters should be resolved at the same time as the divorce. A consent order can be used to record the agreement reached. It is submitted to the court and once approved becomes a legally binding court order preventing any future financial claim from being made outside the scope of what is contained in the consent order.

How we can help

For further guidance on divorce time limits or details of how we can help you call us on freephone 0808 139 1606 for a preliminary free of charge confidential chat or send an email with brief details to us at [email protected]