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Grounds for Divorce

If you are planning to apply for a divorce, you will need to explain in your divorce petition why your marriage has broken down. This is because, in the UK, there is currently no option for ‘no fault’ divorce, so you must show that your partner is to blame for the failure of your marriage in order to be granted a divorce.

People often talk about your “grounds for divorce” meaning the reasons you give in your divorce petition for wanting to end your marriage. However, there is technically only one grounds for divorce under current English law – that your marriage has broken down. The explanation for why this has happened that you include in your divorce petition is instead known as your “reasons for divorce”.

For your divorce to be granted by a court, you will need to show one of the following reasons for the breakdown of your marriage applies in your situation:

Adultery – Where your spouse has had sex with someone else of the opposite sex

Unreasonable behaviour – Where your spouse has behaved in such a way that you can no longer reasonably live with them.

Desertion – Where your spouse has left you without your agreement, without a good reason and with the intention to end your relationship for at least 2 years out of the last 2.5 years.

Separation for more than 2 years – Where you have lived separately for over 2 years and your spouse agrees to the divorce.

Separation for more than 5 years – Where you have lived separately for over 5 years whether your spouse agrees to the divorce or not.

Choosing the right reasons for your divorce can make a significant difference to how quickly and easily your divorce goes ahead, so it is important to give this careful consideration and take specialist legal advice before moving forward with your divorce petition.

 If you are thinking about getting a divorce, please get in touch with our divorce solicitors in London and across the South East now for friendly, sensitive advice.

You can call us on 020 3281 7885 or contact your local Crisp & Co office.


Exploring the reasons for divorce


This is where you spouse has had sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex other than you. Sexual intercourse in this context can potentially cover a range of activity, including oral sex, but not kissing or virtual sex.

Adultery cannot currently be given as a reason for divorce if the infidelity was with someone of the same sex. This would instead fall under ‘unreasonable behaviour’ (see below). You also cannot give adultery as a reason for divorce if you continued to live together for 6 months or more after you found out about the infidelity.

While adultery is a straightforward reason for ending your marriage, it can also be difficult to use as it usually relies on your spouse admitting the adultery. If they are not willing to admit to adultery, they may choose to defend the divorce or launch their own divorce proceedings, potentially resulting in your divorce taking longer and costing more.

Unreasonable behaviour

This is where your spouse has behaved in such a way that you can no longer reasonably live with them. Unreasonable behaviour can cover a wide range of issues and you will often need to give several examples of different ways your partner has behaved unreasonably in order for this to be considered sufficient by a court to grant your divorce.

Common examples of unreasonable behaviour include your partner spending too much time at work or out with friends, failing to support you emotionally, refusing physical intimacy, refusing to contribute financially and excessive drinking, gambling or other potentially harmful behaviour.

Unreasonable behaviour also covers more serious issues, such as your partner being physically, verbally or emotionally abusive and drug-taking.

Unreasonable behaviour is by far the most common reason given for ending a marriage and is usually the easiest and least contentious. This is because you do not have to wait for a set period of time before you can divorce (as you do with the other 3 options listed below) and because you can choose reasons your partner is less likely to object to than adultery, such as their working too much.


This is where your spouse has left you (i.e. moved out of your shared home) for at least 2 years in the last 2.5-year period and they did so without your agreement, without a valid reason and with the intention to end your relationship.

A key point with desertion is that you can still use this as your reason for divorce even if you separated, then your spouse returned for a time to try to work on your marriage before leaving again, as long as they did not return for more than 6 months total in the last 2.5 years.

Valid reasons for your spouse leaving might include if they were working abroad, serving in the armed forces or otherwise living away with your agreement and with the intention to return to you after the period away ended.

Separation for more than 2 years

This reason can be used if you and your spouse have lived separately for over 2 years and your spouse agrees to end your marriage. Living separately will usually mean living under separate roofs and independently of each other.

This is a straightforward way to end your marriage (as long as your spouse consents to the divorce) but does require you to wait for 2 years before applying for your divorce. This can be problematic if you want your marriage to be over sooner, for example, if you wish to remarry or simply want the issue resolved so you can move on.

If you and your spouse are both happy to divorce, it is usually faster and easier to do so using unreasonable behaviour as the reason.

Separation for more than 5 years

This reason can be used if you and your spouse have lived separately for over 5 years, even if your spouse does not agree to end your marriage. Again, living separately will usually mean living under separate roofs and independently of each other.

This is arguably the simplest way to end your marriage, as you can simply apply and have the divorce granted without needing your spouse’s agreement. However, 5 years is a long time to wait to end your marriage and this option is normally only used if your spouse is determined to contest the divorce and you would prefer to avoid going to court over it.

Why choosing the right reasons for your divorce matters

What reasons you can and should use for divorce will depend on the circumstances. In most cases, using unreasonable behaviour will allow you to get divorced the fastest and with the least conflict.

This is because, if your spouse is happy to end your marriage, you can simply agree between you what examples you will give of their unreasonable behaviour that they will be willing to accept. As long as you consult with an experienced divorce lawyer to ensure the examples given are likely to be sufficient to satisfy a court, this can allow your divorce to move forward swiftly and smoothly.

If you instead use divorce, it is much more likely your spouse will object and decide to defend the divorce. This can happen even if your spouse has agreed privately that they committed adultery as they may not want this to be officially recorded and made public.

The other reasons – desertion and separation – all require you to wait set amounts of time to apply for divorce, so using these options can make your divorce take much longer.

Choosing the right reasons for ending your marriage can therefore help your divorce to go ahead much sooner and with less conflict.

Grounds for civil partnership dissolution

There are 4 accepted reasons for dissolving a civil partnership:

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Separation for more than 2 years
  • Separation for more than 2 years

These all work the same as for divorce, the only difference being that adultery is not an option. This is because, as stated previously, adultery under English law only refers to sexual intercourse between people of the opposite sex and civil partnerships were originally only intended for same sex couples.

While someone in a civil partnership could theoretically be unfaithful with someone of the opposite sex, there is no specific provision for this when it comes to civil partnership dissolution. Instead, all times of infidelity by a civil partner come under ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

What about no fault divorce?

No fault divorce is where a married couple can simply agree that they no longer with to be married and this is considered enough for a divorce to be granted. While this is an option in several other countries and can remove a lot of the conflict involved in divorce, it has never been an option under English law.

However, this could all be due to change as the UK government has launched an open consultation on reform of the legal requirements for divorce. This consultation has the stated aim to “shift the focus from blame and recrimination to support adults better to focus on making arrangements for their own futures and for their children’s”.

The announcement specifically states that the proposal includes “removing the ability to allege “fault””. While it will be some time before the consultation is complete and any decision is taken on implementing the results, this could very well be the first step to introducing no fault divorce in England and Wales.

Why choose Crisp & Co for your divorce?

Crisp & Co’s specialist family lawyers are experts in removing the conflict from divorce and separation. With decades of experience, we can provide the practical and emotional support you need to make ending your marriage as swift, smooth and simple as possible, while ensuring your interests and those of your loved ones are protected.

Our team includes trained mediators and collaborative lawyers, who can assist you with resolving all of the issues surrounding divorce without the need for court action. This includes making financial settlements and arrangements for children.

Our divorce lawyers are members of Resolution, a group of family lawyers committed to removing the conflict from family law. This reflects our commitment to keeping divorce amicable wherever possible.

However, we recognise that not all divorces can be resolved out-of-court and we also have strong experience with divorce courts. Our divorce lawyers can offer the expert representation and skilled advocacy needed to secure the right result for your divorce under even the most difficult circumstances.

Get in touch with our divorce solicitors in London & South East England

For help with a defended divorce, please contact our divorce solicitors in London and across the South East now by calling 020 3281 7885 or contacting your local Crisp & Co office.


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