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Guides / The Divorce Process / WHAT are the grounds for divorce

Part 4

what are the grounds for divorce?

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To qualify for a divorce in the UK, you and your partner must be able to prove that your marriage has broken down irretrievably, and staying together would be unbearable. The person serving the divorce petition (the Petitioner) will need to choose 1 of 5 possible reasons for divorce, known formally as “grounds for divorce.” Without 1 of those 5 potential reasons you cannot get divorced, as currently, a divorce without “blame”  (known as a no-fault divorce) is not a legal option in the UK.

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what are the grounds for divorce?


Adultery is the legal definition for when the partner receiving the petition (Respondent) has had an affair, specifically when the affair has been sexual. Although a popular grounds for divorce in the UK, adultery is also complex, and can sometimes be difficult to prove.

The person serving the petition, the Petitioner, won’t be able to use adultery as grounds for divorce if they are the person who has been unfaithful.

It’s important to note that adultery is not a grounds for divorce between same-sex spouses. According to UK law, adultery only refers to sexual relations between a man and a woman.

Adultery can be difficult for divorce, as the Respondent needs to confirm that they have committed adultery for the grounds to be valid. If the Respondent denies the affair, unreasonable behaviour is often issued instead.

Unreasonable behaviour

With the broadest set of criteria, unreasonable behaviour is the most common grounds for divorce in the UK. For example, unreasonable behaviour could cover illegal activity, reckless behaviour and physical/ emotional abuse. The Petitioner essentially needs to show that living with their spouse has become unbearable due to their behaviour.

Unreasonable behaviour has no set list of examples. It is the main “fault” form of divorce, where the Petitioner needs to explain what the unreasonable actions of the Respondent were during the relationship.


A less common grounds for divorce, desertion is applicable if one party has completed deserted the other. Desertion is generally where one spouse has left the other without their prior knowledge or consent.

Desertion as a grounds for divorce is usually when the Respondent has been absent for two years (in the past 30 months) before the petition is served. In this case, the Petitioner may not need the Respondent’s permission to go through with the divorce. 

2 years separation (with consent)

If you and your partner have spent more than 2 years living apart before your divorce, then this period of legal separation can be used as grounds for divorce.

The Respondent must consent to the divorce in this case.

5 years separation (without consent)

If two spouses have been separated for 5 years or more, then this separation period qualifies as grounds for divorce.

If the two spouses have been separated for 5 years or more, the Petitioner doesn’t need permission from the Respondent to divorce. They would, however, need to provide evidence that they have been separated for this period.

what is a no-fault divorce?

Currently, your divorce needs to have a reason or “blame” behind it for it to be legally valid. However, petitions to change this have been ongoing in the UK for many years, campaigning for the blame element of divorce to be removed.

In June 2020, The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was finally recognised by parliament and is due to be instated in the Autumn of 2021. Once the bill has been legally passed, you will no longer necessarily have to have grounds for divorce in the UK.

However, going through a no-fault divorce won’t make the divorce process any cheaper or shorter. It will simply be a method for couples to divorce from one another if the relationship has ended amicably, with no official “grounds” for divorce.

want to know more about the grounds for divorce?

LGBT Lawyers is here to help. Our friendly team are on hand to connect you with the best possible divorce lawyer for your case.

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