What Are the Grounds for Divorce in England and Wales?

As I write this blog, promises of significant changes in the divorce law in England and Wales are being made by the government. I’m hopeful, that soon, this blog will need to be updated as the grounds available for divorce applications will have changed. But for now, in September 2018 these are the grounds we have available for someone wishing to pursue a divorce in England and Wales…

The majority of my clients tell me that they wish to divorce their spouse on the grounds of “irreconciliable differences”. They may have read about this option in the media in relation to the divorces of Hollywood celebs or heard reference to it whilst watching a U.S. TV drama series.

Irreconciliable differences is presently NOT an option for divorce applications in England and Wales. 

To make an application for divorce in England and Wales a person needs to show the court that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down“.

To do this, they have to choose one of five factors. These are:

1. Adultery

This needs to involve your spouse having had sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex – (yes, it doesn’t presently cover homosexual relationships).

2. Unreasonable behaviour

Here the person wanting a divorce, would need to set out examples of bad behaviour by their spouse that contributed to them coming to the decision that you want a divorce.

3. Two years separation by consent

The couple need to have been living apart for at least 2 years AND both agree for there to be a divorce. Both elements of this need to be satisfied.

4. Two years separation by desertion

Here one party has disappeared for a period of at least 2 years.

5. Five years separation

Here the person wanting a divorce does not require their spouse’s involvement in getting a divorce.

What does this mean for most people?

If the couple have not been living apart for at least two years (and both agree for there to be a divorce), there are only two options to choose from:

  1. Adultery, or
  2. Unreasonable Behaviour

If there is no third party involved, this then means that there is only one option left, which is unreasonable behaviour.

This is the most common ground for divorce in England and Wales. Unfortunately, however, it is quite unpleasant and uncomfortable for the parties. It involves the person making the application (the petitioner) setting out details of examples of behaviour by their spouse that have resulted in them coming to the decision that they want a divorce.

I work with many of my clients to help them prepare details of the unreasonable behaviour they wish to use, for them to forward to their solicitor. It can be a difficult exercise and I can give tips and guidance on how best to approach this.

On a positive note, as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, there have been significant developments recently and the government are looking to make some much needed changes to this area of divorce law to work towards a “no fault” based divorce system in England and Wales.

To find out my thoughts on the need for this change in the law, read my blog –

A Divorce Consultant’s Views On No Fault Divorce



To find out how I could help you in your divorce, get in touch with me here – Contact Rhiannon


If you have found the tips in this blog useful then you will find lots more in my ebook “Tips for Coping with Divorce” which you can download here: free ebook.

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