Grounds for divorce

Grounds for divorce

Choosing the correct grounds for divorce is very important to get your divorce to go through the courts smoothly.  Choosing the wrong reason could cause your divorce to get delayed in court.

Firstly, a divorce cannot be applied for until a couple has been married for at least one year. Divorce proceedings are started by filing a divorce petition at court. At this point you will need to decide on the “grounds for divorce”. This is the reason to end the marriage. Care must be taken when deciding, as not backing up the reason could cause your application to be rejected.

How to choose the grounds for divorce

The petitioner is the person who starts the divorce proceedings. The Petitioner has to complete the divorce petition and send it court. When completing the petition, the petitioner has to say why they want the marriage to end. There are five reasons that they have to choose from as the grounds for divorce (these reasons or facts are often referred to as divorce grounds):

  • Unreasonable Behaviour
  • Adultery
  • 2 Years Separation (both parties need to agree to divorce based on this fact)
  • Desertion for 2 years
  • 5 years Separation (both parties do not need to agree)

The above reasons can also apply to dissolve a civil partnership except however for adultery, as currently, this would not apply to a same-sex couple. A same-sex couple would cite any adultery as unreasonable behaviour.

We can help you to choose the correct reasons for your divorce to make sure the process runs smoothly.

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Let’s look at the reasons in detail:

Unreasonable Behaviour

To rely on unreasonable behaviour, you have to show that your husband or wife has behaved in such a way that you can no longer live with them. This could include:

  • physical violence
  • verbal abuse, such as insults or threats
  • drunkenness or drug-taking
  • refusing to pay for housekeeping
  • Your spouse is financially irresponsible and has failed to maintain you and/or the children properly during the marriage.
  • Your spouse has formed an improper relationship with another person whose identity is unknown.
  • Your spouse does not want to engage in any sexual or physical relations.

If you want to rely on this ground/reason, you will have to do a short statement telling the court why your spouse’s behaviour is unreasonable. This usually causes problems between couples as no one wants all the blame to fall on them. We will help you to prepare and agree on a statement so that you are both happy -without making unnecessary allegations. Using mild examples of behaviour will make it easier to agree on the contents of the petition.  This will avoid an argument about the divorce grounds with your husband or wife.


You can use this reason if your husband or wife had sexual intercourse with someone else of the opposite sex and that you find it intolerable to live with them. The law recognises the act of adultery as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.

You can’t give adultery as a reason if you lived together as a couple for 6 months after you found out about it.

You can name the other person (who your spouse cheated with) in the court paperwork, but we strongly advise against this. Naming a co-respondent can not only make your relationship with your spouse more acrimonious.  It can also lead to delays later on in the proceedings because the other person also has to sign the papers admitting the adultery.

Importantly, you cannot petition for divorce on the grounds of your own adultery. Your spouse could divorce you on these grounds or you will need to use one of the other grounds – most commonly unreasonable behaviour.


If one party to a marriage “deserts” the other for a continuous period exceeding two years then it is possible in UK divorce law to seek a divorce on this ground.

You will need to show that your husband or wife has left you:

  • without your agreement
  • without a good reason
  • to end your relationship
  • for more than 2 years in the past 2.5 years

You can still claim desertion if you have lived together for up to a total of 6 months in this period.

Desertion is not used very often as grounds for divorce, as it requires the mental intent to divorce throughout the 2 year period.  This can be difficult to prove.

You’ve lived apart for more than 2 years

You can apply for a divorce if you’ve lived apart for more than 2 years and both agree to the divorce.

Either husband or wife must agree in writing.  During this time if you have been apart for two years altogether, you can have lived together for up to a total of six months.  You can be separated while living in the same home.  This assumes you’re not together as a couple (for example you sleep and eat apart).

You have lived apart for at least 5 years

If you’ve lived apart for at least 5 years, you can apply for a divorce even if your husband or wife disagrees.

Want to Know More?

We know divorce can be a daunting process so we have prepared a simple divorce guide for you to download and read. It will give you a clear idea of what to expect at different stages of your divorce.

The Simple Divorce Process Guide

To receive this free ebook, already downloaded by thousands of divorcing couples, simply click below:

Simple Divorce Process Guide

Grounds for divorce was last modified: December 9th, 2019 by Carol Sullivan

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