Grounds for divorce: What you need to know

In Divorce Breakup advice

The end of a marriage is a very emotional experience to go through. But if your marriage has broken down, there are five legal grounds that you can use to file for a divorce.

Filing for divorce

The UK has a fault-based divorce system. This means that you can only get divorced by citing a specific reason to prove that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’. While no-fault divorce will soon allow you to start divorce proceedings for any reason, you will currently need to include one of these five grounds on your divorce petition:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable Behaviour
  3. Separation for more than 2 years
  4. Separation for more than 5 years
  5. Desertion

You can use any of these five reasons as grounds for divorce (we’ll explain them in more detail below), but you must have been married for at least a year before you can do so. It can be a long and messy process, so if you and your spouse can agree to the terms and contents of a divorce it is much easier to settle. To begin the process, you or your divorce solicitor must complete a Divorce Petition Form.

1. Adultery

It is incredibly difficult if you discover that the person you love has been having a relationship with someone else. You can use adultery as legal grounds to file for a divorce. If you discover that your spouse has cheated, you have six months to use adultery as grounds for divorce; unless the affair is ongoing.

In the eyes of the law, adultery is seen as sexual intercourse between two people of the opposite sex. So, unfortunately, if your spouse has had a relationship that falls short of sexual intercourse or was with someone of the same sex, it’s better to petition for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour (see below). If your spouse denies committing adultery, it can be difficult to prove otherwise. In this case, a solicitor would also usually advise filing for unreasonable behaviour.

When you file for a divorce you can name the person that your spouse had an affair with, but it is not recommended to do so. It can cause delays and arguments, as that person has to be included in the paperwork. You can’t use your own adultery as grounds for divorce.

2. Unreasonable behaviour divorce

If your marriage has permanently broken down, you can cite unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce. Divorce on unreasonable behaviour is now the most common in England and Wales: in 2016, 51% of wives that filed for divorce did so on these grounds, as did 36% of husbands. To use unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce you must be able to show that you can’t reasonably be expected to live with your partner.

Examples of reasons for an unreasonable behaviour divorce:

  • Physical abuse or the threat of physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Drunkenness or taking drugs
  • Carelessness with money (such as gambling)
  • Refusing to contribute to household finances or childcare
  • Overly devoted to a career
  • Unwillingness to engage in a physical or sexual relationship

These are just some of the reasons you might use to show that your marriage has broken down through unreasonable behaviour. Serious allegations, such as physical violence are sufficient grounds on their own, however, for smaller examples of unreasonable behaviour, more than one reason can be listed.

3. Separation for more than two years

If you and your spouse have not lived together for more than two years, you can use this as grounds for a UK divorce. But you and your spouse must both agree, in writing, to the divorce.

4. Separation for more than five years

If you and your spouse have not lived together for more than five years, under UK family law you can also use this as grounds for a divorce. After five years you don’t need your spouse to agree to the divorce, you can file a divorce petition without their consent.

5. Desertion

Desertion occurs when your spouse has left you for a continuous period of two years or more without your consent. It can be difficult to prove that your spouse had the intent to desert you, and so it is not a common cause used to file for divorce. If you and your spouse both consent to the divorce, a solicitor would usually advise you to use grounds of separation for more than two years. If not, they would normally advise you to file for divorce on grounds of unreasonable behaviour.

Do you need a solicitor?

A highly qualified and experienced solicitor can make the divorce process easier for you. There are some complicated legal steps and forms that a solicitor will need to complete on your behalf. They can also advise you on how the law works, and what you can expect from your divorce proceedings. This leaves you time to handle the personal changes in your life.

If you need to file for a divorce yourself, you can do. But if your divorce petition is defended (your spouse doesn’t agree with the grounds for divorce you have used), it is recommended that you seek legal help immediately.

If you are unhappily married and want to know more about grounds for divorce, go to The Law Superstore now to access our database of dependable, experienced divorce solicitors.


Andi Forsythe

Andi is our Content Marketing Manager at The Law Superstore. She's dedicated to providing helpful and thorough articles so anyone can access the legal support they need.

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