Desertion As The Ground For Divorce – What You Need To Know

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Originally published on 28th September 2018 at 11:20 AM

Important update: in April 2019, the government confirmed that England & Wales will (at some point) change the current laws and introduce no-fault divorce. The information in this blog is still valid until the laws change, however when this will be has not yet been confirmed. For updates on no-fault divorce, please enter your email address below and we'll alert you about any important changes.

What does ‘desertion’ mean when it comes to divorce?

Desertion in English and Welsh law is defined as one person in the marriage deserting the other for a continuous period of at least two years. This basically means that one person has left the other without agreement or for a good reason.

How do you ‘prove’ that you’ve been deserted?

Desertion is rarely used because it can be hard to prove as it relies on proving the intent was there. You must prove that the mental intent to divorce was there throughout the two years. This is hard to do. This is why more people tend to use either two years separation, five years separation or unreasonable behaviour as the fact to rely on. Here’s a quick breakdown of these reasons so you can see if they are more relevant to you:

  • You can use two years separation as the fact if both of you agree that the marriage has broken down without any chance of repair.
  • Five years separation can be used if you’ve been separated for five years, the difference with this one is that you can start proceedings without the other person agreeing to the divorce.
  • Unreasonable behaviour can be used as a reason to divorce if the behaviour has negatively affected the other person is such a way that the marriage can’t recover. For example, verbal abuse or lack of emotional support.

Do I need the other person’s permission to start the divorce process?

No, you can start proceedings without the consent of your ex.

What if I’m not in touch with my ex?

If you have an address for your ex you can start proceedings. Don’t know where your ex is and can’t get in touch with them at all, not even online etc? The courts will want to see that you have attempted to get in contact with them. Get in touch for more advice on this part.

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About the author

Hannah Hodgkinson is Head of Marketing at amicable. Hannah has over six years experience working for global NGOs and private consultancies and has a passion for marketing for companies with a social purpose


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Divorce based on desertition my (ex) wife left me 10 years ago to return to South Africa. We have had no contact & she has taken all documentation with her. How do I final for a divorce
Hi Brian, you can use five years separation or desertion as the reason for the divorce. If you do not have an address for your ex you will have to fill out some more paperwork to prove to the court that you have tried every means necessary to contact your ex. You will also need a marriage certificate. If you don’t have an original you can order a new one via the government website. Feel free to contact us if you need any more assistance – 0203 004 4695.

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