What are the Grounds for Divorce?

In England and Wales, the divorce law changed in April 2022 which means that you do not have to put fault on your partner when seeking a divorce. 

If you are planning to get a divorce in England or Wales, our expert family law solicitors can guide you through the process and explain how the new no-fault law works.

Why do you need grounds for divorce?

When you file for a divorce, you need to confirm that your marriage has “irretrievably broken down”. 

This means that you strongly feel that there is no way you can reconcile and reconnect as a couple. 

What is a no fault divorce?

As of April 2022, no-fault divorce was put in place to take away the need to have blame put on either party within the marriage as to why it broke down. 

Instead, the no-fault legislation includes:

  • A replacement for the “five grounds of divorce’’, allowing couples to split without assigning fault 
  • Removal of the possibility of contesting a divorce 
  • An introduction on an option for a joint divorce application
  • Language that is in plain English, for example changing ‘decree absolute’ to final order

What are the grounds for divorce in the UK?

Under the new no-fault law, there is still only one ground for divorce which is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down but you no longer need to establish one of the five facts upon which to base the divorce which were: 


Under the old law, if you discovered that your spouse had cheated on you, you had six months to use adultery as a ground for divorce, unless the affair was ongoing. 

Unreasonable behaviour 

Unreasonable behaviour used to be the most common reason used in divorce proceedings under the previous divorce law.  

Unreasonable behaviour means that your partner has acted in such a way that you can’t reasonably be expected to live with them.

Unreasonable behaviour is quite broad, as while it does include serious accusations like domestic abuse, it also includes minor marital issues. Some examples of unreasonable behaviour include:

  • Physical abuse of physical threats 
  • Verbal abuse
  • Drink or drug abuse
  • Carelessness with money
  • Refusing to contribute to childcare and/or household finances
  • Unwillingness to engage in a physical or sexual relationship

Separation for more than 2 years 

Under the old divorce law, if you and your spouse hadn’t lived together for more than two years, then that was sufficient grounds for divorce provided both you and your spouse agreed to the divorce. 

Separation for more than 5 years 

Under the previous divorce law, you had to wait until you and your spouse had been separated for 5 years if you did not have any other grounds for divorce.

After five years of separation, you did not need your partner to agree to the divorce.


Desertion means your spouse has left you for a continuous period of two years or more without your consent. It was difficult to prove that your spouse had the intent to desert you, so this ground was rarely used under the old divorce law.

How long does a divorce take?

Once your divorce application has been issued, the law then requires you to wait 20 weeks before it is possible to move onto the next step in the divorce process. This wait period allows you and your partner to reflect and consider the divorce and also deal with other matters, such as the arrangements for the children and a financial settlement.

This can be frustrating for couples who have already been separated for a long time, or who are in a hurry to move on with their lives so it’s a good idea to start your divorce application sooner rather than later. Our guide to how long divorce proceedings take may be of use.

After the 20 weeks have passed, you can then apply for a Conditional Order, previously known as the ‘decree nisi’. The court will usually issue this within several days, and then you must wait another 6 weeks and 1 day before you can apply for a Final Order, previously known as the  ‘decree absolute’.

Once you have received your approved final order, you are officially divorced. This will usually be around 6-7 months from your initial application. 

Do I need a solicitor to help with my divorce?

A divorce solicitor can be extremely helpful during a divorce process as they will speak to both yourself and either your ex-partner or their solicitor. They will advise you throughout the process and prepare all relevant documents. 

A divorce solicitor will also help you to navigate difficult conversations around children and finances, and guide you through the best way of settling disputes.

At VM Family Law, our divorce solicitors will represent you in court and speak on your behalf so you don’t have to. Above all, we will always ensure we get the best possible outcome for you and look after you every step of the way.

If you are currently considering going through the divorce process, contact our team to see how we can help you through these difficult times.

Our goal is to help our clients solve their family legal matters as smoothly as possible.

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