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Grounds for divorce

The reasons for divorce 

To apply to get a divorce under the laws of England and Wales you must have been married for more than one year and you will be required to demonstrate good reasons for wanting to end your marriage. There are 5 reasons that can be used (known as facts in law but generally referred to as the grounds for divorce) which demonstrate that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. You can give one of the following reasons:

Unreasonable behaviour

This involves showing that your husband or wife has behaved in such a way that you can no longer live with them. If you are using this ground for divorce you will be required to note in the divorce petition examples of their behaviour.

It's worth bearing in mind that the court doesn't insist on really severe allegations of unreasonable behaviour in order to grant a divorce. Relatively mild allegations such as devoting too much time to a career, having no common interests or pursuing a separate social life may suffice. Using mild allegations may make it easier to agree the contents of the petition with your husband or wife and avoid prolonged debate about the divorce grounds.

Unreasonable behaviour is now the most common ground used to apply for divorce in England and Wales. 


You must prove through actual admission or through sufficient circumstantial evidence that your husband or wife has had sexual intercourse with another person of the opposite sex and that you find it intolerable to go on living with them. If a sexual liaison short of sexual intercourse has taken place, it is suggested that the unreasonable behaviour ground is used instead.

If you carry on living with your husband or wife for more than 6 months after you found out about their adultery you can’t give adultery as the reason for your divorce.

The person who has committed adultery cannot use this ground. 

Two years' separation

You have lived apart for at least two years and you both agree to the divorce. Agreement must be in writing.

Five years' separation

You have lived apart for at least five years. In this instance, you do not need the agreement of your husband or wife. 


This is where your spouse has left you without your agreement for a continuous period of at least two years. This fact is almost never used. 

What is involved in a UK divorce?

Sometimes there is a misunderstanding about what actually is involved in a divorce, in legal terms. Put simply, a divorce is just the ending of the legal contract between a husband and wife.

A divorce case and the costs involved DO NOT automatically include the costs of sorting out matters in relation to children, for example getting agreement on where they will live, or the thorny issue of finances. These will be dealt with by separate legal proceedings unless an agreement is reached amicably between the two parties.

Need advice on the grounds for divorce in the UK?

Call Woolley & Co on 0800 3213832 to discuss the grounds for your divorce with a specialist family and divorce lawyer.