The spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) maintains the fidelity of chromosome segregation during mitosis. Nonpathogenic cells lacking the SAC are typically only found in cleavage stage metazoan embryos, which do not acquire functional checkpoints until the mid-blastula transition (MBT). It is unclear how proper SAC function is acquired at the MBT, though several models exist. First, SAC acquisition could rely on transcriptional activity, which increases dramatically at the MBT. Embryogenesis prior to the MBT relies primarily on maternally loaded transcripts, and if SAC signaling components are not maternally supplied, the SAC would depend on zygotic transcription at the MBT. Second, checkpoint acquisition could depend on the Chk1 kinase, which is activated at the MBT to elongate cell cycles and is required for the SAC in somatic cells. Third, SAC function could depend on a threshold nuclear to cytoplasmic (N:C) ratio, which increases during pre-MBT cleavage cycles and dictates several MBT events like zygotic transcription and cell cycle remodeling. Finally, the SAC could by regulated by a timer mechanism that coincides with other MBT events but is independent of them. Using zebrafish embryos we show that SAC acquisition at the MBT is independent of zygotic transcription, indicating that the checkpoint program is maternally supplied. Additionally, by precociously lengthening cleavage cycles with exogenous Chk1 activity, we show that cell cycle lengthening and Chk1 activity are not sufficient for SAC acquisition. Furthermore, we find that SAC acquisition can be uncoupled from the N:C ratio. Together, our findings indicate that SAC acquisition is regulated by a maternally programmed developmental timer.