Divorce after five years separation: the old ground for divorce

Originally published on 28th September 2018 at 10:20 AM
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No-fault divorce was introduced in England and Wales on April 6th, 2022 which removes the need to choose a ground or reason to support the 'irretrievable' breakdown of a marriage.

All the information below is applicable to the previous system, and divorces that were issued before April 6th, 2022.

You can read more about this change in our no-fault divorce guide.

There are five ‘grounds’ in English and Welsh law that could be relied upon to prove your marriage or civil partnership has broken down past the point of repair. Definitions of these facts can be confusing; this blog explains what the five years separation ground for divorce is and how it was used for divorce or dissolution (for civil partnerships).

Applying for divorce using the five years separation rule

How is ‘five years separation’ defined in England and Wales?

In English and Welsh law, five years separation is defined as you and your ex-partner having been separated for at least five years. This means you must have been physically separate (living apart, sleeping separately and keeping your finances (bills etc) separate for at least five years).

If you’re not sure if five years separation is the right ground for divorce in your situation, read our blog on the reasons, or 'grounds for divorce/dissolution' in England and Wales.

Does my partner have to agree?

At the time, your partner didn’t have to agree to start divorce proceedings if you used five years separation as the reason. However, you must’ve been able to provide an address for your partner, so that the court can send your ex the divorce/dissolution petition.

If your ex didn’t agree, this will slow down the process. For more tips to speed up your divorce, read our quick divorce blog.

Tip 1 : If you wanted to have an amicable separation, we used to recommend discussing the grounds for divorce with your partner first. Prior to no-fault divorce, seeing which grounds for divorce your ex-partner would be more comfortable with was something we recommended discussing. But in general, by including your partner in the process, you’re more likely to reduce acrimony later on.

How did you start the process of divorce after five years separation?

  • Decide how you’ll get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership. Are you going to do it yourself or will you need someone to help?
  • You will also need to send a copy of your marriage/civil partnership certificate (in English).
  • You may also need to pay the divorce court fee which is £593 (at the time it was £550).

Tip 2: Check if you’re eligible for a discount on the government court fee by using our free court fee calculator.

“What if me and my ex-partner don’t speak anymore?”

If you’re not in contact with your ex, you will still need to demonstrate to the court that you have tried all reasonable means to find them. For example, contacted relatives, their place of work and last known address. If you can demonstrate to the court that you have done this and you’re still unable to find them, you can apply to ‘dispense with service’ - this is the process of proving to the court that you’ve tried everything in your power to get an address for your ex-partner’. If you think this applies to you, speak to one of our experts by booking a free 15-minute call to find out about our ‘missing spouse service’.

Alternatively, you can visit this website if you believe your ex-partner is in the UK still. You can try an online tracing service also like 192. And finally, you can try the international family law group if you believe your ex-partner is abroad.

How long does it take?

This depends on your personal situation and whether you’ve already agreed on plans for childcare and financial arrangements. You can complete this divorce timeline to get a bespoke answer.

A simple divorce or dissolution takes a minimum of 7 months, whereas a more complex one can take longer.

In general, it usually takes around four-six months to divorce or end a civil partnership. Beware of companies promising quick divorces within 12 weeks as this just isn’t possible due to the workload of most divorce centres.

Are online divorces faster?

There are advantages and disadvantages to having an online divorce. If you or your partner aren’t particularly tech-savvy, an online divorce may not be the best choice, or the fastest if you’re going to do it yourself.

How much does it cost? Can I divorce for free?

Divorce is rarely completely free. You may need to pay the court £593 to process your divorce. However, you may be eligible for a discount on these fees. Just click here to find out if you're entitled to a discount.

Apart from the court fees, you have a choice about how you divorce. To work out what’s best for you, it’s worth speaking to us and we’ll talk you through the options to divorce.

If you're looking for tips on how to save money on your divorce, you can read our blog on how to keep the costs of divorce down.

How did five years separation affect the divorce/dissolution paperwork?

The Divorce Petition (now called the Divorce Application):

If five years separation was used as the grounds for divorce/dissolution, then you needed to include the date you stopped living together as a couple.

The acknowledgement of service:

If you used five years separation as the 'fact' to rely on, you didn’t need consent of your ex. The acknowledgement of service form had to be completed by the respondent (the person responding to the petition). However, they didn’t need to agree to the grounds. They may have chosen to defend the divorce, and this may have impacted the cost and time it takes.

The Decree Nisi (now called the Conditional Order):

The Decree Nisi was/is the middle stage of the divorce and included the D84 and D80 form. If you used five years separation pre-no-fault divorce, the D84 form was the same regardless of the grounds. However, the D80 form changed depending on the grounds used. For five years separation, it was the D80 E form.

Tip 3 : Remember to include yours and your ex’s address history on the D80 E form, so that the court know you haven’t lived together as a couple since separating.

The Decree Absolute (now called the Final Order):

The Decree Absolute doesn’t alter based on the grounds used. If you would like to read more about the divorce process, we have a helpful guide on how to submit for divorce.

If you have any questions, or would like some support, please book a free 15-minute call with one of our experts here.


Can I get a financial settlement after five years separation from my ex-partner?

If you’re looking to get a consent (financial) order on divorce or dissolution, you must have received your Certificate of Entitlement following your Conditional Order (previously called the Decree Nisi) which confirms a judge has reviewed and approved your divorce or dissolution. On the old system pre-no-fault divorce, this was also the step that the judge would review your ground for divorce and see if there was substantive evidence to support the claim that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Today, you can start the financial separation process after receiving your Certificate of Entitlement.

Does the cost of divorce after 5 years separation change?

Before the introduction of no-fault divorce, the cost of applying for a divorce, not accounting for any reductions or discounts on court fees, was the same no matter which ‘ground for divorce’ you chose.

How long do I have to be separated to divorce?

You must be separated for a minimum of two years if you’ve got the consent of your ex, or five years if you don’t. Alternatively, you can use unreasonable behaviour and note the separation as an example of unreasonable behaviour.

How long do you have to be separated before you get an automatic divorce?

There’s no such thing as an automatic divorce, however, if you’re separated for over five years, you don’t need the consent of your ex to use the grounds for divorce of five years separation.

What to do if your partner disputes that you have lived apart for five years?

You may need to prove it. You can prove this by showing household bills/ information of when you/they moved out. You can also look into amending the petition and changing the reason for divorce to one of the other options.

How long does divorce take if the other party doesn’t agree?

If your ex won’t sign the divorce/dissolution paperwork, this will likely slow down the process. This also depends on the grounds for divorce. For example, if you use two years separation, you need your partner’s consent, so if they won’t sign, you’ll have to submit an amended petition using a different reason.

Is UK divorce law the same as English divorce Law?

UK law describes four different legal systems in the UK. When we talk about England and Wales, we are generally talking about the English and Welsh legal system. Scotland and Ireland have completely different legal systems. The divorce laws, therefore, change depending on which legal system is used.

Read More

Start your amicable divorce journey

Speak to an amicable Divorce Specialist to understand your options and next steps for untying the knot, amicably.

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Comments (15)

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Aida Macias
28.02.2018 22:13

I am separeted 7 yrs.can I marry here in states, my name is Aida Luy macias

Hannah Hodgkinson
28.02.2018 22:13

Hi Aida, thanks for getting in touch. You will still need to get a divorce, even if it has been seven years – let us know if you need any more help.

Sean Davies
30.09.2018 11:04

How much will I have to pay as kids live with me and get child and working tax credits

Hannah Hodgkinson
30.09.2018 11:04

Hi Sean – if you’re referring to how much you’ll need to be pay in court fees, you can check here. If you’d like support with your divorce, you can read more about our pricing here.

George Roberts
23.10.2018 10:14

Hi I’ve been separated from my wife for nearly five yrs and I’ve said many times for a divorce she said she would do it then nothing it’s getting stressful what can I do

09.01.2019 19:36

I have a question on my long divorice I have been going threw this divorice for 3 years my x had changed lawyers 3 tines we are still in the settlement part and nothing had been signed if this divorice goes on for 5 years will I get nothing in my settlement there’s a business involved a house of 35 years inheritance money I was married for 35 years plus a stay home house wife that worked little but I do have a college degree which I got later in life I will take any advice on my situation thank you

10.01.2019 22:00

I separated from my husband nearly 8 years ago due to adultery on my part, he now wants to file for divorce citing adultery as the reason, can he still do this after being separated for so long? Many thanks.

Bev Hunter
17.04.2019 17:05

Hi I commenced divorce proceedings in 2014. Can I recommence proceedings based on that petition changing to 5 years separation? Thanks

26.04.2019 23:12

Hi I'm seperated from me ex we were married. We have had no contact what so ever and have been seperated for just over 5 years now . Does this mean the marriage is ended. As I want to marry my new partner in USA. I married my ex in UK.

07.11.2019 20:19

How do you prove that you have been separated for 5 years ie what’s to stop the ex from denying this as they don’t want a divorce to be spiteful?

26.02.2020 6:58

Shared house mortgage She hasn’t paid a penny in the five years since she left Is she still entitled to half the house

08.06.2020 22:19

My partner's ex is very bitter and spiteful over him leaving even though they had not had a relationship for around 15 years. He moved in with his parents nearly 3 years ago but he doesn't share any bills. In case his ex plays up when five years are up, he won't be able to prove he has lived there. His parents didn't approve of him leaving either so they may not want to support him. What should he do?

01.02.2022 1:09

I have been separated for over 10 years amd my wife lives in Spain and has no address in the UK. WIll the divorce still be under UK law?

michael durkin
15.03.2024 11:48

I was married in 2001 to an Italian national in Italy she deserted me in 2003, Despite making many efforts to trace her over the years (mutual friends,etc.) No one knows where she is or have had any contact with them. I want to divorce her as I wish to get married again, could you advise me please?

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Oscar from amicable
30.05.2024 10:29

Hi Michael, Thank you for your question. If you're unsure of where your spouse is, but believe they are in the UK, you might be able to find them through these services: https://www.findukpeople.com/ https://www.192.com/ However, if you believe your ex-partner might be abroad, we would recommend contacting the International Family Law Group here: https://iflg.uk.com/contact Best wishes, Oscar from amicable