Can You Ever Get an Automatic Divorce after a Long Separation?

Trial separation and legal separation are good options for some married couples. It gives them time to figure out if they really want to get divorced – a permanent process that can also be costly and stressful. 

Some married couples who have been living separate lives wonder if they could automatically change their marital status by virtue of the fact that they’ve been apart for so long. 

Is divorce ever automatic?

Divorce is never automatic. Depending on the intricacies of your situation, it could take months or even years to complete the divorce proceedings. Unfortunately, some separated couples are under the misconception that they can get a quick divorce with no legal steps necessary. In reality, this is impossible.

Regardless of what type of divorce you’re looking to pursue, you must go through the legal system to get one. Not only do you need to draft and file a petition for a divorce, but if you want an uncontested divorce, both parties must agree on all parting matters. If the parties do not agree on everything, the divorce becomes a contested one. A contested divorce requires more paperwork and court filings than an uncontested divorce.

Can I convert a long-term separation to divorce?

Maybe. It depends on which state you live in when you file for divorce. Almost all states allow for legal separation in some form. Only Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas do not allow legal separations.

In the states that allow legal separation, you may be able to convert your legal separation to a permanent separation or divorce. In California, for example, you can enter into a legal separation by negotiating a separation agreement with your spouse. After some time, if you decide to get a formal divorce, you can convert your legal separation into a divorce proceeding. You'd still need to follow the state's divorce process, but you'd save a bit of time and cost by converting your separation to a divorce.

Not every state with legal separation allows you to transition from that to divorce. In states that don’t allow the conversion, you'd need to start an entirely new legal proceeding to initiate divorce. So, make sure you understand your legal rights and the divorce laws in your state.

Read a comparison of legal separation vs. divorce


How can I get divorced quickly?

Although divorce doesn’t come automatically after a lengthy separation, that doesn’t mean you must necessarily hire a divorce attorney for representation in court or even legal advice. 

Summary dissolution

If you're looking to get divorced quickly, there are a few possible avenues you could take. In some states, summary dissolution of marriage is an option. This is an expedited process that allows spouses to get divorced without any court hearings or trials. To qualify for summary dissolution, the couple must meet certain criteria, including having been married for a short period of time (usually less than five years), having no joint debts, and having no minor children together. If all of these conditions are met, the divorce may be completed in as little as six months.

True default divorce

A more widely available option is true default divorce. This allows people to get divorced even if their spouse does not respond to the initial filing paperwork. However, this route only works if the petitioning spouse can prove to the court that the other spouse received notice of the divorce and decided not to respond or participate. It may require posting notice of the divorce in the newspaper in addition to personally serving the divorce papers on the other spouse. The court will review the paperwork and grant a default judgment if everything looks valid. Usually, this takes about three months.

Uncontested divorce

Finally, uncontested divorces allow couples who agree on major divorce settlement issues (marital assets, property division, spousal support/alimony, child support, and child custody, to name a few) to obtain a divorce without having to go through mediation or many court proceedings. This is often much faster than traditional litigation since both parties are in agreement. Typically, it takes less than two months to complete an uncontested divorce provided you've met the residency and waiting period requirements for your state.

Although no magic wand can be waved to get you an automatic divorce decree, some paths to divorce are easier than others. Hello Divorce helps clients in all kinds of domestic situations. View our comprehensive plans to find the one that fits your specific needs and goals, or schedule a free 15-minute consultation to speak with an account representative about your options.