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Grounds for divorce

The only grounds for divorce in England and Wales, is the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage. To prove the marriage has irretrievably broken down, you need to prove one of five facts.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jan 11, 2022

Please note that a new law, coming into place in April 2022, will change the rules around grounds for divorce. Read more here

These are:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion for at least two years
  4. Separation for at least two years, with mutual consent
  5. Separation for at least five years

If you stay with your partner for at least six months after the last incident of adultery or unreasonable behaviour, you can no longer use this fact to end your marriage.

To start divorce proceedings you must have been married for at least a year. But you do not need to start divorce proceedings before applying for child maintenance, so don't get your priorities wrong - don't be pushed into a divorce before you're certain, but do look into sorting out the money issues around the children.

What is legal separation?

Legal separation isn't actually an official status - if you and your partner separate, you don't need to register or log this anywhere. Later on, if/when you need to prove that you've been separated for a particular length of time, you will be able to do this with household documents, eg bills.

If you expect your separation to be long-term or permanent, it's probably worth getting a separation agreement drawn up. This will outline the arrangements for children, property and money, and you'll need a solicitor or mediator to help you put it together.

Related pages• Divorce process• Divorce checklist• Getting divorce advice• Dating after divorce• Get relationship help• Talk: relationships

What is judicial separation?

This is an alternative to divorce proceedings in a situation where one spouse doesn't agree that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. However, it is hardly ever used any more.

How to start divorce proceedings

One spouse has to start divorce proceedings - it can't be a joint petition. Whichever of you does this is called the petitioner; and the other spouse is called the respondent. Usually the petitioner is the partner who most wants the marriage to end and who feels they are least at fault (although that's often a close call to make!).

Whoever is the petitioner has more power over the speed of the proceedings - but there again, they also have to do more of the work. What's more, they will incur the court fees, and more legal costs than the respondent. Because of this the petitioner can ask the court to order the respondent to pay all or some of their costs.

Do you have to go to court if you're getting divorced?

Probably not. Most divorce cases are what's called 'undefended' - and what that means is that all the business is done on paper. Your names will be read out in a courtroom, but you won't have to be there to hear them.

However, you will quite possibly have to attend court to hearings about children and finances.

Divorces are usually carried out in a county court. But not all county courts cover divorce proceedings, so you'll need to call your local court to find out whether or not they do, and if not which court to approach.

How much does divorce cost?

The court fee to begin divorce proceedings is upwards of £300. If you are eligible for legal help you won't have to pay this.

You don't need a solicitor for a divorce, but if you do you'll have to pay legal costs unless you are eligible for legal aid.