Grounds for Divorce – Choosing the Right One

03 November 2017

Grounds for Divorce is a common phrase which may not be fully understood by many people. You may think that “grounds for divorce” is the reason or reasons why the marriage is to be ended; and you would be almost correct. Here’s how it works in England and Wales.

There is only one ground for divorce: that “the marriage has irretrievably broken down”. To support this the divorce petitioner (the person who starts divorce proceedings) has to choose one or more of the following reasons for the divorce:

Putting your own situation into one of the above categories may not be easy, so to help you we explain the five legally recognised causes of marital breakdown:


The law in England and Wales states that adultery has occurred when sexual intercourse has taken place between a consenting man and woman, when at least one participant is married to someone else. An allegation of adultery will need to be proven in Court either by admission or with sufficient evidence.

It is also important to note that if a person chooses to continue living with their spouse for a further six months after discovering adultery, they will not be able to file for divorce on the grounds of adultery.

Unreasonable Behaviour

This applies when a husband or wife has behaved in such a way that their spouse cannot reasonably be expected to continue living with them. The term is broad, but some of the most common examples of unreasonable behaviour include physical violence, verbal abuse, substance misuse or financial irresponsibility (such as failing to contribute to household costs).

When citing unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce, the Judge will need to be convinced that this behaviour has caused irreparable damage to the relationship. A divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour can be sought after six months.


If a person leaves their marital home without the agreement or their husband or wife, without good reason and/or with the intention of ending their relationship, the husband or wife can then cite desertion as a direct cause of marriage breakdown. It's worth noting that proving the motives of the deserter can be difficult. A divorce on the grounds of desertion can be sought two years after the desertion has taken place.

2 Years Separation

If a married couple have lived separately for two years or more and both agree in writing to a divorce, then this can be used as proof that an irreparable breakdown of marriage has occurred.

5 Years Separation

If a married couple have lived separately for five years or more, then this can be used as proof of marital breakdown, even if both people do not agree to a divorce.

Making the Right Choice

To ensure that the divorce process is as straightforward as possible, it's important to establish the reason on which to base your divorce petition as early as possible. Very few instances of marriage breakdown will fit neatly into one of these categories and inevitably these lines will become blurred. It's therefore a good idea to seek advice from a Divorce Solicitor who can assess your personal circumstances and help you to make the right choice.

Finances after Divorce

Before you take the first step, it’s also important to note that once a “Decree Absolute” has been granted, this will legally end the marriage, and both people will be free to marry again, but it does not end the financial commitments between the couple.

In order for matrimonial finances to become completely separate after divorce, a Financial Order from the Court is required. For details speak to one of our Divorce Solicitors or see Clean Break Orders and Consent Orders explained.

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