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What Are the Grounds for Divorce?

Under current UK law, you must have been married for at least a year and be able to demonstrate that your marriage has irretrievably broken down in order to secure a divorce. At present, there is no option for a “no fault divorce” i.e. where the married parties can agree to divorce without apportioning blame.

There are 4 accepted grounds for divorce in the UK and you will need to be able to prove at least one of these in order to get a divorce.


If your partner has had sex with someone else and you are not willing to continue living with them, this is fairly straightforward grounds for divorce. However, there are some important caveats to bear in mind.

Perhaps surprisingly, under current UK law, adultery is only defined as sex between a man and a woman. Sex between people of the same gender is not considered adultery, even within same-sex marriages. This limitation is likely to be increasingly problematic as the number of same-sex marriages increases.

You may have difficulty proving adultery if your spouse and the person they committed adultery with refuse to admit it. Also, you must petition for divorce within six months of discovering the adultery (unless it is ongoing) and must not have lived together as a couple for more than 6 months after you found out.

You cannot file for divorce on the basis of having committed adultery yourself.

Unreasonable behaviour

This is where your spouse has behaved in such a way that it is not reasonable to expect you to continue living with them.

Issues likely to be accepted by a court as unreasonable behaviour include:

  • Physical violence
  • Verbal abuse (e.g. insults and threats)
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Refusing to contribute financially

You will normally need to list several examples of unreasonable behaviour, unless they are particularly severe (e.g. domestic violence). It is advisable to agree the details of a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour with your spouse before issuing proceedings. If they dispute the allegations, it can delay your divorce and make the proceedings even more acrimonious.


Desertion is where your spouse has left you and the following apply:

  • You did not agree to it
  • There is no good reason
  • Your spouse left to end your relationship
  • In the last 2.5 years, you have lived together for no more than 6 months

Living apart

If you have lived apart for more than 2 years, you can petition for divorce as long as your husband or wife agrees to this in writing.

If you have lived separately for more than 5 years, you can get divorced even if your spouse does not agree to it.

Getting an annulment

Annulment offers an alternative way to end your marriage that can be used at any time after your marriage – there is no need to wait a year after the wedding, as you do for a divorce.

Grounds for annulment include:

The marriage was not legally valid – e.g. you are closely related, one of you was under 16 or one of you was already married or in a civil partnership.

The marriage is “defective” – e.g. it was not consummated, you did not properly consent or your spouse had a sexually transmitted disease at the time of the marriage. 

What to do if you want to get a divorce

To begin divorce proceedings, you will need to file a Divorce Petition at Court. If you have children, you will also need to file a Statement of Arrangements for the Children form.

If the Court is happy with the contents of the petition, they will then send a copy of the petition to your spouse or their solicitor.

Most divorces are undefended, meaning the non-petitioning spouse accepts the divorce. If your spouse decides to fight the divorce, you may need to go to court. An undefended divorce can usually be arranged in 4-6 months.

It is generally advisable to agree the contents of the divorce petition with your spouse and/or their solicitors before issuing the petition to help secure a faster resolution.

At Crisp and Co, our expert divorce solicitors have many years’ experience helping clients with divorce proceedings. We can help you with every step of the process, including preparing and filing your petition, responding to a petition and negotiating a fair divorce settlement.

To find out more, call us today on 020 3797 4952 or get in touch using the enquiry form below.

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