Grounds for divorce in England and Wales

Due to the amount of Hollywood divorce cases being in the press over here, there are many common misconceptions about the legal grounds for divorce in England and Wales. ‘irreconcilable differences’, is widely believed to be a legal term here, but it is, in fact, one of the grounds of divorce in California, not in the UK.

In England and Wales there are 5 grounds for divorce that are recognised by the law:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • You have lived apart for more than two years, with both parties agreeing to the divorce
  • You have lived apart for more than 5 years.

Although these may seem quite black and white, there are still various nuances and variations that need to be taken into consideration.

Adultery may seem like the easiest reason to divorce. However, the divorce proceedings must start within 6 months of the adultery coming to light, so if your marriage is slow to break down after an affair is discovered then you will need to use another reason to divorce.

Adultery is by law defined as taking place between a man and a woman. This means that same-sex couples can not cite adultery as a grounds for divorce and if a member of a heterosexual couple has had an affair with a member of the same sex then adultery can not be applied.

Unreasonable behaviour covers a wide range of different actions, such as domestic violence, abuse and illegal drug taking. If you are considering this as a grounds for divorce it is well worth speaking to an experienced family lawyer before you proceed any further to ensure you have all the information that you need, especially if your partner does not want the divorce.

Desertion and living apart also have various different definitions that must be met for the divorce to go ahead. Although, practically speaking, in most of these cases both partners want to end the marriage, so it can work out as quite straight forward. One partner moving out is often the easiest way for couples who have simply drifted apart to start the divorce process.

There are an infinite number of reasons why married couples want to split and the 5 grounds should cover all of them in one way or another. It is very important that you seek legal advice from an experienced family lawyer to ensure that you have all the information that you need to make the divorce process as simple as possible.

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