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Divorce, five-year separation and how it works

Living separately for a period of more than five years is one of five grounds for divorce. It can therefore be used to prove that a marriage has broken down and that there is no reasonable chance of the couple in question reconciling.

Unlike two-year separation, divorces citing five-year separation do not require the consent of both parties. As a result, five-year separation is a ground that is regularly used when one spouse wants a divorce and the other is uncooperative.

Why five-year separation works when one party doesn’t consent

If you’ve been researching the divorce process in the UK, you may well have been told that a divorce will automatically be granted if a couple have been apart for five years or more and the relevant paperwork is submitted to the court. This is actually untrue, but this ground does allow people to get a divorce without their spouse explicitly agreeing to it.

However long a couple may have been living separately, the law states that it is necessary to make every reasonable effort to ensure that both parties are aware of the fact a divorce is being sought. This is because it is deemed to be vital that the spouse that has not applied has the opportunity to respond to the application and to claim their share of joint assets.

In the event that an application is made but the party that receives the application does not respond to it, the applicant can inform the court and request that a bailiff serve the documents on them at their home address. If this is completed successfully, the courts will be satisfied that the party has had ample opportunity to respond to the application and will, provided the correct procedure is then followed, grant the applicant a divorce.

But what if someone doesn’t know their spouse’s address?

If someone that wants to apply for a divorce does not know their spouse’s current address, it can make the process more difficult, but it doesn’t have to prevent the divorce.

When such circumstances apply, it is advisable that the party get in touch with anyone who may know their spouse’s current address such as mutual friends, member of their family etc. Failing this, the electoral register should be reviewed. It is also now possible to request that the relevant divorce centre liaise with other government departments in order to try and find this information. The assistance of a private investigator can also be sought if none of these generate the desired result.

It is unlikely that a private investigator would be unsuccessful but, if they were, then an applicant can formally request that the court allow them to divorce their spouse without notifying them. This involves submitting a completed form D13B along with the application for a divorce. 

Does divorce cost more when one spouse’s address is unknown/they won’t cooperate?

Sadly, if one party’s address is not known or they do not complete and return their documents to the court, the process of obtaining a divorce does become more expensive.

If the address is known but the party does not complete and return their documents, the cost of a court bailiff is approximately £100. Alternatively, if an address cannot be located, a private investigator is likely to charge a similar fee, though some do offer a ‘no-success, no-fee’ service.

Fortunately, most applicants can save money by requesting that the courts reduce the £550 filing fee. The majority of people are actually entitled to a discount whilst some will not need to pay it at all – we’ve written a blog post outlining when people are entitled to a discount in the court fees for a divorce here.  

How much does a divorce cost if both parties agree?

A divorce is always cheaper when both parties consent to it, but far greater savings can still be achieved by foregoing solicitors.

Solicitors’ fees can easily run into thousands of pounds even when a matter is simple. By opting to do their own divorce or using an online divorce specialist, couples can make significant savings.


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