What are the grounds for divorce?


11 September 2017

By Farhad Islam

To be legally granted a divorce in the UK, you must be able to prove one of the ‘grounds for divorce’. This means giving one of a certain set of reasons that demonstrate that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, and being able to show evidence of this.

There are five possible reasons you can give for ending a marriage. In this blog post, we explain what each of the five reasons mean, and when they can be applied.


You can cite adultery as grounds for divorce if your partner has had sex with someone else. However, an important detail to remember is that this reason only applies if your partner had sex with someone of the opposite sex. Somewhat archaically, same-sex adultery is currently not recognised under UK law – even in same-sex marriage.

If your partner refuses to admit the adultery, you may find that it is difficult to prove. Another thing to consider is that if you have continued to live with your partner for more than 6 months after you found out about the affair, you cannot file for divorce based on this (unless the affair is on-going).


You can petition for divorce on the grounds of desertion if your partner has left you, and the following apply:

  • They left you without your agreement
  • They left without good reason
  • They left to end your relationship
  • They have been gone for more than 2 years in the past 2.5 years.

Unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour is defined as your partner behaving in such a way that you could not reasonably be expected to live with them. It therefore can include a wide range of behaviour, but typically would be for reasons such as:

  • Domestic violence or abuse
  • Drunkenness or drug taking
  • Refusing to contribute financially e.g. by getting a job
  • Making insults and threats

Because of the wide range of possible scenarios it encompasses, ‘unreasonable behaviour’ is the most commonly cited reason for divorce in the UK. However, another potential reason for this grounds being used so often is the fact that ‘no-fault divorce’ is currently not available in the UK.

The absence of a ‘no-fault’ option means that couples who wish to divorce amicably without ascribing blame (such as in circumstances where they are simply no longer in love) are forced to make claims of unreasonable behaviour against each other in order to be granted a divorce. For this reason, Sir James Munby, head of the High Court’s family division, has previously spoken out in favour of no-fault divorce. With pressure mounting to bring it in, we could potentially see no-fault divorce becoming available in the years to come.

Separation (2 years with consent)

If you have lived apart for 2 years or more, you can give this as a reason for divorce as long as you both agree to the divorce. Your partner must submit their agreement in writing.

Separation (5 years without consent)

If your spouse does not consent to the divorce, then you need to have lived apart for 5 years in order to be legally granted a divorce.

What to do if you want a divorce

If you have decided you want a divorce, the first thing you will need to do is file a petition to the court detailing the reason for divorce. 

The Court will consider your application and, if they approve, will send a copy of the petition to your partner or their solicitor. Your partner will then have a chance to either agree to the divorce or dispute it. If your petition goes undisputed (as most do), you can expect the process to take a few months. However, if your partner does not consent to the divorce or disputes the reasons given, you may have to go to court and the process can take considerably longer.

When you’re going through a divorce, it’s essential that you have the right legal representation on your side. Having an experienced family solicitor will help to protect your interests and keep the stress of your divorce to a minimum.

Gepp & Sons’ divorce and family solicitors are based at our offices in the centre of Chelmsford and can offer expert legal advice and support at every stage of the process. To find out more about how we can help, call us on 01245 228106 or send us an enquiry to get a quick response.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues