Grounds for Divorce

What is Divorce?

Divorce is an action filed in court, seeking to dissolve the marriage of the parties involved.  The parties to an action for divorce are the husband and wife, either or both of them seeking to legally end their marriage.

Effects of Divorce

Divorce severs all legal relations, including the bonds of matrimony that existed between the husband and wife. This also terminates the rights and obligations expected between spouses.

Upon issuance of a divorce decree by the court which handled the case, 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:


This fact takes the nature of marital infidelity where you have knowledge that your spouse has had full sexual intercourse with a person from the opposite sex and you find it intolerable to continue living with him or her.

You must file a petition for divorce within six months from knowledge of such fact, regardless of whether both you and your spouse are still living together or not. But after the lapse of such period, you can no longer invoke this as a basis because you have failed to show that living with your spouse is intolerable from the date that you learnt of the act of infidelity.

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

Any sexual relation short of a full sexual intercourse cannot be used as a fact and evidence of adultery. The appropriate fact to use would be unreasonable behaviour.

Unreasonable Behaviour

This is a catch-all provision, meaning it is subject to a wide range of interpretation. This fact covers all kinds of behaviour as long as you can prove that you find it unbearable to live with your spouse any longer. No wonder unreasonable behaviour is the most used and abused basis for petitioning the court for divorce in England and Wales.

This provision can cover grave reasons such as physical or verbal abuse to milder yet intolerable reasons such as poor hygiene and too much time spent in career. But mild allegations should not be undermined; this basis paves way for expediting your divorce undertaking.

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 deserted you without your consent for an uninterrupted period of two years. Use of this fact is rare.

Two Years’ Separation with Consent

To utilise 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. You need to establish such facts.

The court will treat both of you as living apart unless you and your spouse live in the same household. Both of you must have decided to end your marriage but if you still live in the same house, the court can assess your living arrangement and see if you are ‘living separately,’ according to the implication of the law.

However, if within this time both you and your spouse attempt at reconciliation for a period not exceeding six months and should it fail, the period of attempting reconciliation will not drive a wedge in the two-year period, provided that it be added to the required two years’ separation up until the time of actually presenting your petition for divorce.

Five Years’ Separation

If you cannot persuade your spouse to get a divorce and you cannot invoke the other ‘facts’ mentioned, 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 petition.

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 from the complexity of one case to another. 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 when disputes concerning custody of children, property and finances arise. This will help ease the stress caused by the legal battle.

Divorce Reform Act of 1969

Since its implementation, the rise of divorce rates has been largely attributed to this Act. Understandably because the reform brought by this legislation narrowed the ground to one: irretrievable breakdown of marriage which can be proven through any of the five facts.

A ‘special procedure’ implemented in 1973 which is applicable only to England and Wales allows conducting divorce by post.

But recent years show that divorce rates have been declining in England and Wales. This is more specific in 2007, when the divorce rate of 11.9 people out of 1,000 in England and Wales was considered an all-time low since 1981.