Reasons for getting a divorce

To obtain a divorce, it must be established that a marriage has irretrievably broken down. The law prescribes 5 possible ways in which the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage can be proved. These are commonly known as the ‘grounds for divorce’.

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion for a continuous period of at least 2 years
  • 2 years’ separation coupled with consent
  • 5 years’ separation

In the UK, the majority of divorce cases are undefended – this means both parties agree to the divorce, even though one person has applied. Divorce proceedings in the majority of cases, therefore, are processed as paperwork formalities and you probably won’t have to attend Court.

The grounds for divorce in more detail


You have grounds for divorce if your spouse had sexual intercourse with someone else of the opposite sex. This is called ‘committing adultery’.

  • Proof or an admission by your spouse is required for grounds of adultery. Without an admission it can be difficult to prove adultery, in which instance you should seek legal advice.
  • Couples in civil partnerships cannot use adultery as grounds for divorce.
  • You cannot use adultery as a reason if you continue to live together as a couple for more than 6 months after you found out about it (unless the adultery is continuing)

Unreasonable behaviour

You can use unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce if your spouse’s behaviour makes it unacceptable for you to continue to be married to them.  All manner of allegations can be covered by ‘unreasonable behaviour’ and this is the most common grounds for divorce in England and Wales. The reasons for your allegation don’t need to be severe but your petition for divorce needs to clearly display the main things that have made your spouse difficult to live with.  Reasons could include (but are not limited to):

  • Physical violence
  • Verbal abuse
  • Drunkenness or drug-taking
  • Refusing to pay towards shared living expenses

Desertion for a continuous 2 years

Desertion as a grounds for divorce means your spouse left you for at least 2 years before you applied for divorce.

You can still claim you were deserted if you lived together for short periods during this time (up to a total of 6 months); however, this will not count towards the 2 year minimum.

2 years’ separation coupled with consent

If you’ve been separated for at least 2 years and you both agree to it, you can apply for a divorce using the grounds that you’ve been separated for this time. Your spouse must agree in writing.

Sometimes it is impossible for couples to live in separate properties while they are going through a divorce, perhaps for financial reasons. You might still be able to successfully claim this as grounds for divorce as long as you’re not living together as a couple, for example if you sleep and eat apart.

5 years’ separation

You can use a 5-year separation as grounds to apply for a divorce. Your spouse does not have to agree in writing that the marriage should end.

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