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In the UK, you have to be married for one year or more in order to obtain a divorce. If you have been married less than this, you will need to look into annulment (see our blog post on this).

Contrary to belief, there is no fixed time period on how long you need to be separated before you start divorce proceedings. Most legal professionals will advise at least six months of separation to allow for the possibility of reconciliation, but this is not a MUST if you are not sure i.e. You may have separated a few times before and this is the final straw. Divorce is a tough process to go through emotionally so deciding the grounds for divorce can be difficult.

We have to provide the court with a lawful and justified reason that you and your spouse no longer wish to remain married that they deem acceptable to grant.

There are five 5 grounds for divorce in the UK that you can currently use.

2 years separation

This ground for divorce is the most commonly opted for when couples are trying to achieve an amicable and ‘friendly’ divorce. It is viewed as non-inflammatory and therefore is seen as the simplest option.

We provide the courts with the date in which the marriage is believed to have been over, along with the date in which the couple began living separately, which of course need to be 2+ years ago, your spouse will also need to agree to these dates.

You can only apply for divorce based on 2 years separation if you are sure that your spouse is going to sign the papers and agree to the divorce. You will not be able to take further standard measures to complete the divorce if they do not sign.

5 years separation

This ground works almost exactly the same way as 2 years separation HOWEVER, you do not necessarily need your spouse’s agreement to file on 5 years separation.

We often use 5YS in cases where the petitioner cannot find the Respondent and has not been able to do so for 5+ years. This mean the dates can be in your opinion, whether your spouse agrees or not. We can take the further measures to continue without their agreement.

Unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour is another ground in which you can file on without being sure that your spouse is going to sign.

It is often used in non-amicable divorces and divorces where you have not been separated for 2+ years before filing. There is a lot of bases covered in UB.

Some examples of these are:

  • Lack of emotional support, where you feel your spouse has not been there for you when you have needed it over the period of your marriage. When you have needed someone to confide in, they have not physically or mentally been there to rely on.
  • Lack of a physical relationship, your spouse has expressed their disinterest in wanting to engage in a sexual relationship with you. Or they have not shown you any affection in any form and are generally seeming distant from you i.e. sleeping in separate beds.
  • Verbal abuse, constant name-calling, shouting, arguing etc caused by your spouse, leaving you to feel constantly like you have done something wrong.
  • Domestic Violence/Physical Abuse, your spouse has assaulted you on one or more occasions. You do not need any police evidence of this, the court will very rarely ask for this. This has lead you and/or your children to feel unsafe and vulnerable in the family home.
  • Substance abuse, your spouse is dependent or misuses alcohol or drugs and this has affective you and your relationship in any form.
  • Financially irresponsible, your spouse is causing you stress regarding finances, they are not responsible with a joint account, or they have taken money from you on any occasion without your consent etc. This are all valid reasons.
  • They live their social life separately from you. They do not wish to interact with you in or outside of the home. They do not invite you out, you do not socialise with the same people etc.
  • They do not wish to maintain a relationship with your family members, they have expressed a disinterest in doing so.
  • The deterioration of their mental health has had a great negative affect on you.

This is probably one of the most commonly opted for grounds purely on the basis that most petitioner find applicable. Don’t panic if you think your spouse won’t sign as they may believe these are ‘accusations’ that will be used against them in the future. This is not the case; these examples are purely for divorce purposes and cannot be ‘used against you’ per say in any future court proceedings i.e. financial remedy.


Adultery is the most commonly opted for grounds in the UK with it being used for 55% of divorce cases.

We advise using this in the instance where your spouse has committed adultery and will admit to having done so. It can be difficult to proceed with divorce on the grounds of adultery without their agreement so it is important that you are sure this will be the case before you file. If you are not sure, you could file on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour but mention your spouse’s adultery as one of the examples, this way they will not need to sign and agree.

When using adultery, the court ask that you provide as much detail as possible, as difficult as we know that can be, it is important that the courts have all of the information, to your knowledge, in the petition. This will be points like when you found out about the adultery, how, how long you were aware that it had/has been going on for etc.

You can also choose to name the co-respondent, who is the person who your spouse had an affair with and apply to have them pick up the costs.


One of the less opted for grounds, desertion essentially means you have been abandoned. You will have to prove that your spouse, has abandoned you for at least two years without your consent before you can start a petition for divorce.

This can be difficult to prove hence why it is used less. It can be costly and take longer to carry out.



How do I know which one is right for me?

Choosing the right grounds for you can be difficult but the two important things to look at before you do is ‘Will my spouse agree to the divorce?’; have they alluded to any reason that they may not ie finances, child arrangements? They may use their ability to not sign the papers against you. You know your spouse better than anyone else so please evaluate this before you decide.

Another point to look at is where you know your spouse’s address. If you don’t or you are not sure, it is important you file on unreasonable behaviour or 5 years separation as there is chance, they may not sign the petition as they may not even receive it! This way you can continue without your spouse’s signature.

There is talk from the court that in 2022 they will bring a ‘No Fault’ divorce into effect, meaning we will no longer have to use any of the above for those amicable couples who have decided that they just no longer wish to remain married.

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