Grounds for divorce’ was a term first introduced in 1973. 

Until recently, it was used to describe a number of set reasons why someone may wish to end their marriage – and, for a divorce to be granted, you’d need to provide evidence to support at least one of them. However, due to the recent landmark changes in the law, this is no longer the case.

There is now only one legal ground for divorce:

That your marriage has ‘irretrievably’ broken down.

You won’t need to play the blame game and make allegations about your spouse’s behaviour. Or be expected to wait for long periods of time. To get a divorce, you simply need to make a statement – which confirms that your issues cannot be resolved, and your marriage has come to an end.

The old grounds for divorce in the UK

Before the new law was launched (on the 6th April 2022), to legally file for a divorce, you would need to cite at least one of the five official grounds for divorce in the UK. These included:

  1. Adultery

If you discovered that your spouse had cheated, this could be used as a valid reason for a divorce. However, in the eyes of the law, it was only technically classed as ‘adultery’ if:

  • your spouse had engaged in a non-marital relationship with a member of the opposite sex
  • their relationship included sexual intercourse

And you would need to apply within 6 months of becoming aware of their infidelity.

  • Unreasonable behaviour

This was the most common ground for divorce, simply because ‘unreasonable behaviour’ was a very vague term, and a wide range of allegations could be used in the divorce application.  

Some examples include:

  • physical or verbal abuse
  • inappropriate relationship with another person
  • financial recklessness
  • alcoholism or drug-use
  • unwillingness to engage in a sexual relationship
  • overly devoted to their career
  • lack of emotional support

Serious allegations (e.g. domestic abuse) were typically regarded as sufficient grounds for divorce on their own. However, if the allegations were relatively mild, several examples were often needed – to prove that a divorce was actually warranted by their behaviour.

  • Desertion

If your spouse had moved out of the shared marital home for 2 years or more, this could also be used as a valid reason for divorce. But again, there were a number of tricky caveats to overcome.

According to the law, ‘desertion’ only applied if:

  • your spouse left without agreement or a valid reason
  • and with the intention to end your marriage

This was often very difficult to prove. Therefore, most family law solicitors would advise filing for divorce on different grounds (e.g. separation for 2 years, unreasonable behaviour) instead.

  • Separation for more than 2 years

This was regarded as one of the more straightforward ways to end your marriage. But only if:

  • you and your spouse hadn’t lived together for more than 2 years
  • both parties agreed to the divorce

Otherwise, it became a very time-consuming and problematic option. Particularly if you wished to remarry, or simply wanted to resolve the issue sooner and move on with your life.

  • Separation for more than 5 years

Arguably, this was the simplest, least contentious route.

If you and your spouse hadn’t lived together for more than 5 years, this could be used as a valid reason for divorce, and you were entitled to apply without your spouse’s agreement.

However, 5 years was a very long time to wait – and, as a result, this option was only normally used if your spouse was determined to contest the divorce and you wished to avoid court.

Why has the law changed?

The new law is part of a big shake-up in the family justice system. A shake-up that has been made necessary, due to both changes in society and people’s attitude towards marriage.

For a long time, the previous divorce law was majorly outdated – only adding to the animosity of already difficult circumstances. And sometimes, unfairly forcing people to stay in a relationship, even if they’d tried to make it work and had been unsuccessful.

By removing the need for ‘grounds for divorce’, separating couples no longer have to apportion blame for the failure of their marriage. Which means, instead of wasting time finger-pointing, they can focus on the practical decisions (e.g. regarding their children and finances) and start to look to the future.

It also stops one partner from vindictively contesting a divorce and locking their spouse into an unwanted marriage – which is particularly important for victims of abuse.

Ready to take the first step?

The traditional ‘grounds for divorce’ are now completely obsolete.

To get a divorce in the UK, there are just three requirements:

  1. You need to have been married for over a year
  2. Your marriage needs to be legally recognised in the UK (this includes same-sex marriages)
  3. You need to provide a ‘Statement of Irretrievable Breakdown’

This can be a sole or joint statement and will be taken as evidence that your marriage cannot be saved and should therefore end in divorce.

To find out more about the new divorce process, and begin legal proceedings, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Here at St Helens Law, our family law solicitors have excellent knowledge in this area and are more than happy to help. Either give us a call on 01744 742360. Or to request a free consultation, fill out our online form and a member of the team will respond as soon as possible.