Divorce Law in England and Wales Explained

09 July 2019

In order to legally get a divorce in England or Wales, there is a set process that must be followed and the Court must be satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This article explains how divorce law works in England and Wales.

Under the current law of England and Wales, in order for the Court to grant a divorce, it's necessary to evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. What's more, the reason for this breakdown must be provided, and it must be one of the following five 'facts' for divorce:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • 2 years' separation (with consent from both sides)
  • 5 years' separation

Sometimes these facts are referred to as 'grounds' for divorce, but this is not technically accurate. There is only one legally recognised 'ground' for divorce in England and Wales, and that is simply that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Starting Divorce Proceedings

To begin the divorce process, one person in the marriage will need to draft and submit a Divorce Petition. This document will outline some key details of the marriage and will also state which reason, or fact, is being relied upon for the divorce, from the list above.

The person who completes and submits this document is then known as the 'petitioner.'

Once the Divorce Petition has been submitted and processed by the Court, it will then be issued to the other person. They will be asked to acknowledge the divorce proceedings by completing and returning a document called an Acknowledgement of Service.

This person is then known as the 'respondent' and they have the opportunity to contest the divorce if they disagree with the information provided in the divorce petition.

How Do You Know Which Fact to Choose?

It's important to select the right fact for divorce when completing the Divorce Petition, as the Court will need to be satisfied that this is the reason why the marriage has broken down. If the Court is not satisfied then they may refuse to grant the divorce.

This is exactly what has recently happened in one high-profile case in England, where a wife wanted to divorce her husband on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour. The husband contested the divorce and the Court ruled that the wife's evidence of his unreasonable behaviour was not sufficient to cause an irretrievable breakdown of their marriage. The divorce was denied on this basis and, consequently, the couple are still married.

For more information on this case, see Can a Judge Deny a Divorce?

So, choosing the right fact to rely upon is important. It's also important to understand how these facts can be applied. For example, the petitioner cannot cite 'adultery' as the reason for the divorce if they are the one who has committed adultery. The adultery must have been committed by the respondent.

Relationships are complex and each one is unique, so we understand that categorising the breakdown of a marriage into one of these categories can be challenging. We would always recommend seeking legal advice from a Divorce Solicitor, who can advise you on the best course of action and draft the Divorce Petition on your behalf.

At Co-op Legal Services, our Divorce Solicitors can support you through your divorce from start to finish. We will liaise with the other side on your behalf and make the process as smooth and stress-free as it can be.

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