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Divorce Advice – Understanding grounds for divorce

This article is part of Astle Paterson’s Divorce Advice series. For more guides like this, see our latest news and blogs.

As we explained in our previous Divorce Advice article – Can I legally get divorced? – many people think there are multiple grounds for divorce, when there is in fact only one ground for Divorce in England and Wales: irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. But as well as this, there are legal conditions that must be met by a spouse wanting to be divorced in England and Wales.

These are:

  1. The estranged spouses must have been married for at least one year.
  2. The Courts of England and Wales must have jurisdiction to deal with the divorce proceedings (based on where the parties reside)

If those conditions are met, it is then up to the spouse filing the divorce petition to show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. There are the five circumstances the Court will accept as proof that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

These are (via gov.uk):

1. Adultery

Adultery is legally defined as when your husband or wife has sexual intercourse with someone else of the opposite sex. You cannot give adultery as a reason if you have lived together as a couple for 6 months after you found out about it.

2. Unreasonable behaviour

This could include physical violence, verbal abuse, drunkenness, drug taking, or refusing to pay for housekeeping.

3. Desertion

Your husband or wife has left you without our agreement, without a good reason, in order to end your relationship, or for more than 2 years in the past 2.5 years.

4. Two years’ separation

In this case, your divorce application must be agreed to in writing by your husband or wife.

5. Five years’ separation

Even if your husband or wife disagrees, you can apply for a divorce if you’ve lived apart for five years or more.


Should you not meet one of these requirements then you will not be able to obtain a divorce in England and Wales. However there may be alternatives open to you, such as applying for your marriage to be annulled or applying to the Court for a decree of Judicial Separation.

Contacting us for Divorce advice

If you would like to contact us for advice on Divorce and the processes involved, you can choose one of the following options:

If you have any questions, or need help on divorce or separation matters, Astle Paterson are on your side.

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