What are the grounds for divorce?

What are the grounds for divorce?

If you believe your marriage has broken down and you’re looking into divorce, it is important to know what the grounds for divorce actually are.

In the United Kingdom, there is only one legal ground for divorce, which is the ‘irretrievable breakdown of a marriage’. You can only get a divorce if you have been married for at least one year.

When starting proceedings for a divorce, the petitioner (the person who brings forward the case for divorce) must prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by establishing one or more of the following five reasons:

While the government is considering introducing ‘no-fault divorce’ to help reduce conflict, these are still the only reasons that can be proven to bring forward an application for divorce.


You must prove that your husband or wife had sexual intercourse with someone else.

No more than six months must have passed since you became aware of the adultery before sending your petition to the Court unless the adultery is continuing.

Unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour is the most common fact used to prove the ground for divorce in England and Wales.

You must prove that your husband or wife has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.

Examples of unreasonable behaviour include:

  • Verbal abuse, such as insults or threats
  • Physical violence
  • Drug-taking
  • Refusing to pay towards shared living expenses

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should seek help.

You can get in touch with Refuge by calling 0808 2000 247 at any time.

Men’s Advice Line is a charity set up to help men suffering from domestic abuse. Their helpline is open between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday and you can call them on 0808 801 0327.


Your husband or wife has left you for at least 2 years prior to the petitioner applying for a divorce.

You can still prove desertion even if you have lived together for up to a total of 6 months in this period, but this time will not count towards the required 2 years.

Separated for 2 years, with consent

You can apply for a divorce if you have been separated for at least two years and both parties agree to the divorce. This agreement must be made in writing.

It is sometimes possible to show that you have been separated from your spouse despite living in the same house, as long as you’re not living together as a couple (for example, you both eat and sleep apart).

Separated for 5 years, without consent

If you and your spouse have been separated for at least five years, you can apply for a divorce, even if your husband or wife disagrees.

Do I need a solicitor for divorce?

If the divorce is uncontested, then it can be a straightforward process. However, it is strongly advised to always seek the advice of a family law solicitor in relation to any legal proceedings, as any incorrect completion of documents can lead to a number of difficulties, particularly related to financial matters.

Typically, the Court does not consider your financial matters or children within the divorce proceedings, unless specifically requested by one of the parties involved. These matters will need to be discussed with your solicitor so you know if any action needs to be taken in relation to them.

How long will my divorce take?

An uncontested divorce normally takes between 4 and 6 months.

However, the Court will often not finalise your divorce until all financial matters have been resolved.

It is important to seek legal advice as early as possible to make sure financial matters are taken care of efficiently and in a timely manner.

Birchall Blackburn Law offers a free 20-minute initial consultation, as well as a fixed-fee initial appointment, during which we will assess your circumstances. To make an enquiry, call us on 0800 614 722 or send an email to enquiries@birchallblackburn.co.uk.

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