What are Grounds for Divorce in the UK?

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To get a divorce from your spouse, you’ll need to identify a solid reason for wanting to do so. We refer to this as seeking ‘grounds for divorce’. There are five main reasons that are deemed legally acceptable in the UK.

Unreasonable behaviour

This ‘catch-all’ term refers to numerous behaviours, including: mental or physical abuse, anti-social behaviour, criminal activity and even inappropriate behaviour with someone of the opposite sex. It’s perhaps the most commonly given reason in divorce cases.


To be classified as adultery, the behaviour must have been sexual and with a member of the opposite sex (even if you’re in a same-sex marriage – this law has yet to be updated to reflect the times). The date of the adultery is irrelevant; all you need to do is prove that it happened. A spouse’s admission counts as proof.


If your spouse left the home two years or more ago, with the explicit intention of finishing the relationship with you, this is termed desertion, and is a legitimate reason for seeking a divorce. Finding evidence to prove desertion can be difficult, as you’ll need to prove that they left you without giving an acceptable reason.

Living apart for two years or more

If you’ve lived separately for two years and both want a divorce, this is regarded as acceptable grounds for divorce. This doesn’t mean that you had to be living in two different houses during that time – though it is harder to prove if you’ve both been living under the same roof. In this instance, you’ll need to give evidence that you’ve been sleeping in different beds, not sharing meals, have separate bank accounts and so forth.

Living apart for five years, but your spouse doesn’t want a divorce

If you’ve lived apart from your spouse for five years or more, you can start divorce proceedings without their agreement.

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