What are the grounds for divorce?
  • 21st Oct 2019
  • Share:

There is only one ground for divorce, which is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.


Currently, the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage can only be proved by establishing one of five facts. Those are:


  1. Adultery.  This is a voluntary sexual relationship between one spouse and a member of the opposite sex.  If this takes place before or after the married couple separate, this is still classed as adultery, so long as the parties are still married.  Adultery can only take place between a man and a woman, so the breakdown of a same sex marriage or civil partnership cannot be established by this fact.
  2. Behaviour.  If one party has behaved in a fashion that the other cannot reasonably be expected to live with, the marriage can be dissolved by establishing this.  What is classed as behaviour will vary from case to case, but can range from an unwillingness to communicate and socialise with the other party, to various forms of abuse.
  3. Two years’ desertion.  One spouse left the other at least two years ago.  If this fact is being used, the decision to separate cannot be mutual; one party has to leave the other, against the other’s wishes.  In practice, this fact is rarely used.
  4. Two years separation with consent.  The parties separated at least two years ago, and they both agree to the divorce.  Unlike desertion, the separation can be mutually agreed.  It is also possible for the couple to be separated, but still live in the same house.  It is essential that the parties consent to a divorce on this basis.  If one party does not, this fact cannot be utilised.
  5. Five years separation.  Similar to two years separation, but this does away with the need for the consent of the other party.  The period of separation is much longer though.


The Government has announced the intention to reform divorce law, and do away with the five facts.  When these changes might be passed, and come into effect is not yet known.  For the moment, all divorces must proceed as above.