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Grounds for divorce

Thursday, 27 February 2014

In order to apply for a divorce, you need to have been married for at least a year and your marriage must be legally recognised within the United Kingdom.

You then need to prove that there has been an irretrievable and permanent breakdown of your marriage, meaning that your marriage effectively no longer exists and that reconciliation is impossible.

In order to do this, you have to prove that the one or more of the following five scenarios applies:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable Behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Two years separation with consent
  • Five years separation without consent


Adultery is a reason for divorce if your spouse has had sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex and you can now no longer bear to live with them.

This can include your spouse entering into one or more sexual relationship after you have separated.

However, what constitutes adultery is very specific and quite limiting.

Your spouse must have had sexual intercourse in order for adultery to be cited as a ground for divorce. Other forms of sexual activity are not classed as adultery, and unreasonable behaviour must be cited instead.

Also, if your spouse has had sexual intercourse with a member of the same sex, this does not constitute adultery. Again, you would have to cite unreasonable behaviour.

For adultery to be accepted as a reason, your spouse must have had sexual intercourse voluntarily.

Critically, it must be the respondent (the spouse that divorce proceedings are being brought against) that committed adultery and not the petitioner (the person petitioning for divorce). Therefore, if you were committing adultery and wanted to end your marriage so that you could get married to your new partner, you could not use yourself committing adultery as a reason.

There is a time limit on adultery, so if you have continued to live with your spouse for six months after you found they were committing adultery, then you cannot site it as a reason, as you are considered to have condoned it.

In most cases adultery is proven through admittance. If the respondent does not admit it then proving adultery can be difficult and you will need to speak to your solicitor.

For many years, adultery was the most commonly cited reason for a divorce. However, unreasonable behaviour is now the most commonly cited reason for a divorce, mainly because of the time limits and specific requirements required for adultery.

Unreasonable behaviourclip_image004

Unreasonable behaviour is subjective. It is based upon what you believe to be unreasonable about your spouse's behaviour and your spouse behaving so badly that you can no longer reasonably be expected to live with them. It is more about the effect on the spouse than the actual action itself.

What constitutes unreasonable behaviour is very wide ranging and can include a number of factors such as physical violence, mental and verbal abuse, insults, threats, cruelty, drunkenness, drug taking, gambling, psychological issues such as dominating a partner or not letting them talk to or meet with people, refusing to pay housekeeping, and financial extravagance.

For couples wanting a quick divorce when adultery has not been committed, it is the obvious reason as it is so wide ranging. If a marriage has broken down and the spouses don’t want to be in it anymore then it is usually easy to find examples of unreasonable behaviour.

By accepting a petition for unreasonable behaviour you will not affect any future decisions regarding finances, property or children.


Desertion can be cited if your spouse has left you for more than two years out of the previous two and a half years without good reason or your agreement. If you have lived together for up to six months out of the last two and a half years then you can still claim desertion.

Desertion is rarely cited as it has to be proved that the person who left did so with the intention of leaving their spouse, and for obvious reasons does not allow for a quick divorce.

Two years separation with consent

If both partners agree to the divorce in writing, then having lived apart for two years can constitute an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. If this reason is cited then it is generally an amicable divorce, but is rare because of the length of time involved.

Five years separation without consent

If only one partner agrees to the divorce, then having lived apart for five years constitutes an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This option is very much a last resort due to the amount of time involved.

To find out more about the divorce process, please read our Guide to Divorce. To read more about our divorce and separation legal services, please click here.

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