Grounds for Divorce – Adultery (What you need to know)

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

Adultery is one of the 5 facts or grounds that can be used to divorce in England and Wales. According to the Office of National Statistics’ latest record (in 2016), 1 out of every 7 divorces that were completed in the UK was granted because of infidelity or adultery.

There are 5 grounds for divorce in England and Wales. These grounds are listed below:

This blog will cover what you need to know about using adultery for the reason to divorce your spouse.

What Happens in a Divorce if you Commit Adultery in the UK?

In England and Wales, by law, commiting adultery is a valid ground for divorce (this may differ slightly for the rest of the UK's laws, so double check if you live in Scotland or NI).

The spouse who commited adultery can't be the one to apply for the divorce. This has to be done by the partner who remained faithful. 

Here's a list of essential things you need to divorce if adultery has been commited:

  • You must be married for at least a year to get divorced
  • You must start divorce proceedings within six months of finding out that the adultery has taken place
  • Adultery means sex with a member of the opposite sex. Other forms of intimacy outside of sexual intercourse cannot be used in UK (English and Welsh) law
  • The person who was not unfaithful must be the ‘petitioner’ i.e. the person who starts divorce proceedings

How to ‘Prove it’

The easiest way to divorce using adultery is for the person who has committed the infidelity to admit to it. It can be hard to gather evidence and prove adultery if your ex isn’t prepared to admit it.

You can attempt to prove adultery or infidelity through text messages, hotel room bookings, witnesses etc. However, this route is not advised as it’s likely to lead to further tension between you. If the person who has committed the adultery doesn’t accept that they have been unfaithful, then the other option is to use unreasonable behaviour grounds.

I Commited Adultery - Can I File For Divorce?

When it comes to UK (England and Wales) divorce law around adultery, you can’t start the divorce proceedings if you are the person who has committed the adultery - it will fall to the other person.

This may not seem fair as it leaves your ex to start the process, especially if they aren't being cooperative. If you feel that your marriage has broken down beyond repair, and your ex won’t start divorce proceedings, then you can use Unreasonable Behaviour as your reason for divorce.

My Spouse Didn't Have Extramarital Sex, But Did Get Intimate. Is This a Valid Ground For Divorce?

Extramarital sex is grounds for a divorce when adultery is the reason used. However, any other forms of intimacy besides sex is not valid when using adultery in UK law (English and Welsh law). This may seem like quite an archaic law but in this instance, it's easier to use unreasonable behaviour as the reason for ending your marriage. Especially if both partners are agreed that the marriage is over. 

Is It Still Adultery If You're Separated in the UK?

In England and Wales, if you sleep with a new partner after you've separated from your wife or husband (but not yet divorced), then yes. By law, this would still be considered adultery and your ex could use that as a ground for divorce if they wished.

This is because you are still legally married in the eyes of the law. This is even the case if you and your ex have agreed to see new partners.

Should I Name The Other Person?

There is the option to name the person your ex has had an affair with on the divorce petition. Whilst it’s tempting to do that when things are raw, it doesn't achieve much and gives an additional opportunity for your ex or the person named to object and hold things up. A counsellor can help you process the raw emotional feelings that accompany a betrayal.

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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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