Grounds for Divorce

What is divorce?

A divorce is an action filed in court, seeking to dissolve the marriage of a married couple. Either or both of them can seek to legally end their marriage.

Effects of divorce

Divorce severs all legal relations, including the bonds of matrimony that existed between the spouses and terminates all the rights and obligations expected of them under the marriage.

Upon issuance of a divorce decree by the court, all the legal relations between the spouses are terminated and they are restored to their respective status as before the marriage.

Ground for divorce in the UK

In England and Wales, you can only file for divorce if you have been married to your spouse for at least one year. There is only one ground for divorce, which is the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. This ground is established by invoking and proving one or more of these facts:


You can file for divorce on this ground if you know your spouse has had full sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex and you find it intolerable to continue living with him or her.

This fact can be proved either by actual admission by your spouse or through circumstantial evidence

You cannot give adultery as a reason if you continued to live together as a couple for six months after you found out about it. Any sexual relations short of a full sexual intercourse cannot be used as a fact and evidence of adultery.

Unreasonable behaviour

If your spouse has had sexual intercourse with someone of the same gender or their relationship with the other person fell short of full sexual intercourse, the unreasonable behaviour ground may be used instead

This fact covers all kinds of behaviour as long as you can prove you find it unbearable to live with your spouse any longer. It can cover grave reasons such as physical or verbal abuse and milder yet intolerable reasons such as poor hygiene and too much time spent on a career.

A typical petition invoking this fact would include about four to six paragraphs of different sorts of unreasonable behaviour allegations.

Two years’ desertion

You need to establish that your spouse left you without your consent and without a good reason to end your relationship for more than two years in the past 2.5 years. You can still claim desertion if you have lived together for up to a total of six months in this period.

Two years’ separation with consent

To rely on this fact, you should petition for divorce only if you have been separated from your spouse for at least two continuous years and that your spouse consents to the divorce. Both parties must agree to the divorce in writing.

If you still live in the same house, the court may still grant the divorce on this fact if it decides you are ‘living separately,’ according to the law (for example, sleeping and eating separately).

Five years’ separation

If you cannot persuade your spouse to get a divorce and you cannot invoke any of the other ‘facts’, you may have to wait until you have been separated from your spouse for a continuous period of five years before you can file for a divorce.

You just need to establish that you have been living apart for five years. Your spouse’s consent is no longer needed for invoking this fact.

Duration of divorce proceedings

Duration of divorce proceedings can vary, depending on the complexity of your case. But it usually lasts between five to eight months. Some divorce proceedings can last for years.
It is best to engage the services of a family lawyer especially if disputes over custody of children, property and finances arise. This will help ease the stress caused by the legal battle.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

Lucy on LinkedIn

Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.