Grounds for divorce: What you need to know

If your marriage has broken down, there are five legal grounds that you can use to file for divorce.

No-fault divorce update

New divorce legislation came into effect on 6 April 2022 that removed the element of blame from the divorce process.

Under the new laws, you don’t need to prove that your marriage has broken down by using one of the five grounds for divorce.

Instead, a sole or joint statement will be taken as evidence that your marriage can’t be saved and should end in divorce.

For more information, read our guide: No fault divorce: Everything you need to know.

 

What are the grounds for divorce?

When you file for divorce, you need to prove that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’.
There are currently five grounds for divorce that you can use as evidence to prove this:

  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, but you must have been married for at least a year before you can file for divorce.

Divorce can be a long and messy process, so if you and your spouse can agree to the terms and contents of a divorce, it will be much easier to settle.

To begin the process, you or your divorce solicitor must complete a Divorce Petition Form.

Adultery

Discovering that the person you love has been having a relationship with someone else can be devastating. You can use adultery as legal grounds to file for a divorce.

If you discover that your spouse has cheated on you, you have six months to use adultery as grounds for divorce, unless the affair is ongoing. However, you can’t cite adultery on your divorce petition if you continue living with your spouse after you found out about it.

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.

Remember, you can only use the ground of adultery if it’s committed against you. So, you can’t use adultery as a ground for divorce if you’re the one having extra-marital sexual relationships.

Unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour in a divorce means that your spouse has acted in such a way that you can’t reasonably be expected to continue living with them.

There are two situations where you would use the grounds of unreasonable behaviour on your divorce petition:
  1. Where clear unreasonable behaviour has taken place
  2. Where no other grounds for divorce is appropriate, like when you simply drift apart as a couple
 
While unreasonable behaviour includes serious accusations like domestic abuse, it may also include things like a lack of emotional support, as well as minor things that are simply irritating.

In practice, the vagueness of unreasonable behaviour means that it’s the most used ground for divorce.
Some examples of unreasonable behaviour include:
  • 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

Serious allegations, such as physical violence, are sufficient grounds on their own. However, you may need to give several examples for more minor reasons, like refusing to contribute to housework.

Read more in 8 Common Examples of Unreasonable Behaviour

Separation for more than two years

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

Separation for more than five years

If you and your spouse haven’t lived together for more than five years, you can use this as grounds for divorce. After five years you don’t need your spouse to agree to the divorce. So, you can file a divorce petition without their consent.

Desertion

Desertion means 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, so it’s not often used.

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.

Talk to a solicitor

If you need help filing for divorce, you should talk to a solicitor.

The Law Superstore connects you with family solicitors across England and Wales. Just type in a few details to compare prices and connect with professionals who’ll guide you through the divorce process. 

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Adam Rivers

Adam creates supportive, easy to read guides for The Law Superstore. He specialises in family law, helping people through divorce, child custody arrangements, and other relationship issues.

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