What are the Different Grounds for Divorce in the UK?

It is an unfortunate fact of life that divorce has become much more prevalent over the last few decades. In fact, it is estimated that around 40% of marriages in the UK end in separation. 

Divorce proceedings can sometimes be quite lengthy and acrimonious, so it is important to seek professional advice and guidance. This is because you need to be aware of your legal and financial rights as you enter the process. With this in mind, here is our guide to the different grounds for divorce in the UK.

The Beginning

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Before you are able to file for divorce, you must have been married for a period of one year. You may also need to attend a family mediation meeting, which is designed to help the separation process go smoothly. 

There are several different grounds for divorce in the UK, all of which sit under the umbrella of “irreconcilable differences”. When it comes to launching divorce proceedings, the person starting the process (known as the Petitioner) must be able to prove that the marriage has completely broken down.

There is currently no such thing as a ‘no fault divorce’ in the UK, though this is something that the Government has been considering in recent years. This means that you will not be able to apply for a divorce without first apportioning blame on the other party (known as the Respondent). 

However, the Courts have begun to soften their view on divorce and are no longer likely to force people to remain married if they don’t want to be together. Therefore, if you think you want to separate from your partner but aren’t sure if you have valid grounds, it is always advisable to consult a lawyer who can talk through your options. 

Below is a rundown of the different grounds for divorce in the UK, of which you must prove that your estranged spouse is guilty of committing. 


To be successful in petitioning for a divorce on the grounds of adultery, you must be able to prove that your partner has had sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex and you no longer find it tolerable to live with them. Currently, adultery is not one of the valid grounds for divorce in same sex relationships.

You are able to petition for a divorce on the grounds of adultery no matter whether you are still living with your spouse or you have already separated. However, you must start proceedings within six months of the adultery taking place. 

If the actions of your spouse fell short of full sexual intercourse, it is advised that you file for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour instead. You are also unable to start proceedings due to your own infidelity. 

Although it is possible to name the other person involved in the adultery as a co-respondent in the proceedings, it is highly recommended that you don’t. This is because it can draw out the divorce and make it more acrimonious.

Unreasonable Behaviour 

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Unreasonable behaviour is now one of the most popular grounds for divorce in the UK, given the fact that it has a wider definition than some of the other grounds. To be successful, you have to prove that the Respondent has behaved in such a way that cannot reasonably be expected to live with them anymore. 

When applying for a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour, there are a few points that you must be aware of, which are:

  • You have to provide 4-5 examples of your spouse acting in an unreasonable manner
  • It is not possible for you to include examples of your own unreasonable behaviour
  • You do not need the permission of your spouse to do this, however it may be beneficial to discuss the reasons with them beforehand to reduce the chances of the process becoming acrimonious. 

If the allegations against the Respondent are more serious in nature, for example cases of violence, only one or two accusations may be necessary.


Desertion is probably one of the most difficult grounds for divorce to prove. As a result, it is used very infrequently. 

To be successful filing for desertion, you will have to prove that your spouse has deserted you for a period of at least two years and that they had the mental intention to divorce during this period.

Separation for 2 Years

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You are able to divorce on the grounds of separation if you have lived apart from each other for a period of two years and the Respondent agrees to ending the marriage. Although it is possible to be granted a divorce if you have been separated for two years while you are still living together, it can be extremely difficult to prove.

If you remain in the family home due to financial pressures or for the sake of your children, you will need to demonstrate that you have been living separate lives for two years. Should you be unable to prove this, it may be better pursuing another grounds for divorce – such as unreasonable behaviour. 

Separation for 5 Years

If you and your spouse have been separated for a period of five years, you are able to file for divorce without needing their consent. While this seems extremely straightforward, there are a few things to consider.

The first point is that you will need to know the address of the Respondent before you can proceed. If you don’t, then the process can become much longer and more expensive. 

Another potential issue is that the Respondent may decide to hold up the issue of the Final Decree if they believe they will be financially worse off by divorcing. This is quite a rare occurrence, however, and in most cases the Respondent will simply agree to the divorce.

How to File for Divorce

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No matter which of the grounds for divorce you apply for, the process of separating will be exactly the same. You must first complete a divorce application form (D8 divorce petition) and send it to the Family Court.

You will also need to include the original marriage certificate or a certified copy – a photocopy will not be accepted. The final thing you should send is the correct fee or an application for fee remission.

Once the application has been sent off, there are several stages to pass through before your divorce can be granted. These are:

  • Acknowledgement of Service
  • Application for Decree Nisi
  • Application for Decree Absolute

If both you and your spouse are in agreement and file for an uncontested divorce, you can expect the entire procedure to take within 4-5 months. This will also drastically reduce the cost of the process.

New Legislation on the Horizon

After several years of campaigning, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill made its way through the House of Commons in June 2020. Once it becomes law, it will pave the way for couples to apply for a ‘no-fault divorce’ – a move that advocates say will “bring divorce law into the 21st Century”.

Because of the complexities involved, it is unlikely that we will see the new rules become law until Autumn 2021 at the earliest. This is because a lot of time will be needed to ensure everything is implemented as carefully as possible.

Expert Guidance is Essential 

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Even if you will be filing an uncontested divorce, it is still important that you seek professional advice. This is because you may have more rights than you initially thought.

If you are thinking of filing for a divorce, Shams Williams can help. Our expert team will guide you through the entire process – from deciding which of the grounds for divorce is best for you to pursue, right through to issuing the Decree Absolute. With Shams Williams on your side, you can be sure that everything will be taken care of.


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