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What are the 5 grounds for divorce in England?

11.06.2018 / Kerstin Beyer

What are the 5 grounds for divorce in England?

The truth is that there is only one ground for divorce. And this one ground for divorce is that your marriage must have broken down irretrievably. But the Court cannot decide that your marriage has broken down irretrievably unless the person who started the divorce satisfies the Court that one or more of the five facts have occurred. This is stated in s 1(2) Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The 5 facts are: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation with consent and five years separation without consent.


Many of our clients say that their spouse has committed adultery. Therefore they would like to proceed on this basis. The problem with that is that the respondent, ie the person who committed adultery, needs to admit the adultery. And that is not always the case.

Unreasonable behaviour

It is often better to issue a divorce petition based on the respondent’s unreasonable behaviour. An unreasonable behaviour petition is a safer way to proceed if there is a risk that the respondent may not admit the adultery.

Two years separation with consent

If the parties have been separated for two years or more and are in agreement that they should get a divorce then this is the best way to proceed for them.  Provided always that they have been separated for two years. No allegations of unreasonable behaviour need to be made which allows both parties to remain on good terms.

Five years separation without consent

If the parties have been separated for five years then each party can proceed with a divorce without the need for the other party to consent.


In all our years of working in this area of law we have yet to see a petition based on “desertion”. It seems that no English Court believes that desertion can apply so it is best to be avoided if you want to get your decree.

A word of caution: Seeking your spouses’ consent will usually be a good idea. It  will usually mean that there is a better chance that you and spouse can divorce on good terms. However, there are situations in which it is best to proceed without involving your spouse. These are mostly international cases. Why? Because in international cases there may be jurisdiction to issue proceedings in more than one country. And in that case it is very important to get advice first without involving your spouse so that your lawyers can secure the divorce in the jurisdiction which is best for you.

Have we answered your question? Please call Kerstin Beyer on 0207936 46 44 to discuss your situation.


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Kerstin Beyer Principal Partner

    Thank you for everything that you have done… you certainly went the extra mile! I am grateful that I am now in the position to move forward with the kids, without too many worries.

    from Divorce Client
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