Divorce Grounds: What are they and do I have them?

Woman thinking with caption I divorced on religious grounds, he thought he was god, I didn't
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.

In England and Wales, you must be married at least a year and have divorce grounds to legally end your marriage. In this blog, I will explain what that means.

You have divorce grounds if your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’. We don’t have ‘no-fault’ divorce in England and Wales at present. It’s ridiculous that you have to blame each other to divorce, but there it is. You need to choose one of the following reasons to prove the marriage is over. These reasons are known as the ‘facts’ of the case.

  • You have been separated for two years and you both agree to the divorce
  • You have been separated for five years and only one of you agrees to the divorce
  • Unreasonable Behaviour
  • Adultery
  • Desertion

Two years separation and you both agree to the divorce

The most amicable divorce ground is separation after 2 years with the full agreement of both partners (both of you signing the divorce papers). Separation doesn’t have to mean living in different houses. Very often its impossible for one of you to move out due to financial restrictions. Or, you may choose to remain in the family home because of the children. This doesn’t mean this divorce grounds is not open to you. If you’re living separate lives (examples of which include not sharing a bed, not having sex, cooking separately and washing clothes separately) and have been doing so for 2 years, you can separate using this divorce grounds. You state that you have separate sleeping and domestic arrangements,

Five years separation and your partner doesn’t agree to the divorce

If your partner doesn’t agree to the divorce and no other divorce grounds apply (see below) then you must wait 5 years before you start divorce proceedings. If you have waited this long, and you have an address for your ex you can proceed without their consent. When you file your divorce petition you must make sure the petition reaches your ex.

Unreasonable behaviour

Sometimes there is very obvious ‘unreasonable behaviour’ in a marriage. The government website lists examples: physical violence, verbal abuse, such as insults or threats, drunkenness or drug-taking, refusing to pay for housekeeping. However, milder things can also be used as examples such as too much focus on a career. Unreasonable behaviour is a tricky divorce ground if you are trying to keep things amicable. You need to show that your partner has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her. This means setting out a number of ‘allegations’ against them. The milder your allegations, the more of them you will need. It’s a less amicable route and we would strongly advise you discuss how to keep things amicable with one of our divorce coaches. You can speak to one of our divorce coaches for free here.


Adultery means your (ex-)partner has had sex with someone else of the opposite sex. A same-sex affair doesn’t count under our laws and that’s the same if you’re in a same-sex marriage. To make adultery stick you cannot have lived with your partner for more than six months after finding out about the affair (see separation – separate sleeping and domestic arrangements). This means if the affair was a while ago but you carried on living together you can’t use adultery as the reason for the marriage breaking down unless the adultery is on-going. There is the option to name the person who your

There is the option to name the person who your ex-has been adulterous with, however, I strongly advise you not to do so as this can cause delay and make things far less amicable between you. It’s also worth remembering you cannot petition for divorce using your own adultery as the reason he marriage has broken down.


Desertion means your partner has left you without your agreement and without a good reason for a period of at least two years. Essentially they have just walked out. Its rarely used and instead, unreasonable behaviour is much easier to prove if this is the case.

Help and advice from amicable

If you would like help and support with any of these things please book a call with one of amicable’s Divorce Coaches below.

Book a free 15 minute advice call

About the author

Rebecca has a background in family law and has also been through her own divorce. Rebecca is fantastic at offering pragmatic advice and is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to the legalities around divorce and separation.


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