Reasons to get a divorce

There can be many reasons why you or your spouse are seeking a divorce – but officially there are 5 causes that can be used to justify a legal end to your relationship.

If you’ve decided to file for divorce, you’re not alone – in 2012 the Office of National Statistics estimated that 42% of marriages in England and Wales would end in divorce. In order to get a divorce in England and Wales you will need to have been married for at least 12 months, you or your spouse will need to either live in England or Wales or see it as their permeant home, and you must be able to demonstrate that your relationship has permanently broken down. 

In order to prove this, you must give one or more of the following five reasons: 


In order to cite adultery as a reason, you or your partner must have had sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex. 

It’s worth noting that under current UK law, this means that you cannot give adultery as a reason if it took place between two people of the same sex. This is particularly problematic if you are in a same sex marriage. 

You also cannot cite adultery if more than 6 months has passed since the discovery of the adulterous act. This is the case whether or not you and your partner have separated. The exception to this is if the adultery is ongoing. 

Unreasonable behaviour 

If your partner’s behaviour exceeds what someone can be reasonably expected to live with, you can cite this as a reason for divorce. This is the most common reason given because of the wide range of scenarios it can cover. 

This could include, but is not limited to, the following: 

  • Not devoting enough time to the relationship (for example, due to a separate social life or lengthy work commitments) 

  • Having separate interests 

  • Verbal or physical abuse 

  • Drug-taking or excessive drunkenness 

  • Refusal to contribute to shared expenses, or spending too much money 

  • Having an intimate relationship with someone else that does not involve sexual intercourse 

  • Having sexual intercourse with someone else of the same sex 

Whilst some examples of unreasonable behaviour are extreme, relatively mild ones may also suffice. It’s worth bearing in mind that you and your spouse are more likely to agree if only minor reasons are stated, so if you want to get divorced quickly and amicably it might be worth leaving out any more extreme accusations or subjects of contention.  


You can file for divorce if your spouse left you, without your consent, over two years ago. 

If your spouse leaves you and then returns for a period of less than six months, the period where you lived together again will not count towards the two years, but the period before they returned will. 

Bear in mind that this fact requires you to prove the mental intent to divorce throughout the two year period. Because this can be hard to prove, it is rarely cited as a reason for divorce. 

You’ve been separated for at least 2 years 

If you and your spouse have been separated for two years, then as long as you both consent to it you can use it as grounds to file for divorce. 

If you still lived together during this period (for example, for financial reasons or due to family commitments) you’ll need to prove you’re not living together as a couple. This could include separate beds or bedrooms, eating meals at different times and having a different social schedule. 

For obvious reasons this can be difficult to justify, so your solicitor might suggest you consider unreasonable behaviour as an alternative. 

You’ve been separated for at least 5 years 

If you’ve been separated for at least 5 years you can use it as grounds to file for divorce without the consent of your partner. 

Deciding to file for divorce can be a daunting step, but if you and your partner are able to agree on the reasons you’ll cite then it can make the whole process easier. As reasons cited are public, even in the case of adultery, if you would rather a quicker and amicable divorce with no time wasted contesting the details, unreasonable behaviour is often used. Some partners also just wait until the separation time has elapsed. 

If you are unsure what reasons are most appropriate, your solicitor will be able to advise you.


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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