Grounds for divorce

Reasons for divorce are often referred to as grounds for divorce. These are used to prove that a marriage has broken down irretrievably, that is to say, without the potential to be repaired and maintained. By law, in the UK you can file for a divorce only on one of the grounds considered below. These include:

In the large majority of divorces these reasons suffice. Indeed, all of them but unreasonable behaviour are quite specific and hence basically pick themselves if they are the reason behind you wanting to divorce. However, unreasonable behaviour can be a more obscure ground on which to file for divorce. Due to its breadth it can be hard to know exactly what constitutes this ground. That said, it is in fact the most common reason for divorce in the UK. To help clarify the different grounds for divorce for you, we give each of them some consideration below.

The ground on which you file for divorce will obviously depend on you and your spouse. It may interest you to know that the ground that you pursue will be the reason given in your Statement for divorce, the form that we mention in step 4 of how to get a divorce. As said, this is the form that will communicate to the court the very reasons, and proof if need be, behind your intention to divorce from your spouse.

Unreasonable behaviour

There are various behaviours which constitute this ground for divorce, but they all share a common characteristic - the fact that your spouse´s behaviour has caused you distress and made living with them intolerable. Examples of inappropriate and unreasonable behaviour range from physical/verbal abuse, drunkenness and refusing to pay for housekeeping, to regularly belittling you in private and public spaces.

Generally speaking, there will likely be multiple behaviours that apply to your case so you are encouraged to list as many as you consider appropriate or necessary.

Potential unreasonable behaviours
The respondent has often stated that the he/she does not love you anymore. 
The respondent has regularly belittled you, both in private and on occasions in public, causing you to lose self-esteem.
The respondent often does not prioritise your relationship, and is selfish in the way the he/she acts.
The respondent has constantly shown little or no interest in socialising with your friends and has made no effort to do so.
The respondent does not sleep in the same bed as you and has not done so since __/__/__.
You believe that The respondent has formed an intimate relationship with another man/woman.
The respondent moved out of the ‘matrimonial home’ on __/__/__, saying that the he/she could no longer live with you and that the marriage was over.
You moved out of the ‘matrimonial home’ on __/__/__ as a result of the behaviour of the respondent, believing that there was no future in the marriage because his/her behaviour would not change.
The respondent has a bad temper which the he/she has lost on numerous occasions, causing you to be scared.
The respondent has always had too close a relationship to his/her own family making you feel isolated.
The respondent works very long hours and does not find the time to spend with you and the family, which has caused you to feel no longer part of his/her life.
You and The respondent have argued over money issues for some time, and these arguments have been fuelled by their attitude and behaviour.
You and The respondent have not had a sexual relationship together since __/__/__, through no fault of your own.
The respondent has always disliked your family, which has made you feel isolated from them.
The respondent is very jealous and regularly checks your movements, friends, telephone calls, text messages etc,, which makes you constantly feel monitored and unnecessarily uncomfortable.
The respondent has failed to look after herself/himself physically, despite your requests.
The respondent has consistently refused to assist around the house, leaving this to you, despite regular requests to the contrary.
The respondent has been verbally abusive towards you on numerous occasions.
In your view, The respondent often drinks excessively, which causes her/him to behave in an irresponsible, aggressive or unpleasant way.
The respondent makes most of the decisions in your relationship without consulting you enough, if at all. This makes you feel as if you were being constantly pressured into doing things that you don’t want to.
the respondent, in your view, is unnecessarily mean with money and keeps a very tight control over your family finances, making you feel like a paid employee rather than a husband/wife.
The respondent has regularly gone out with his/her friends to the exclusion of you.
The respondent has never particularly liked your family despite your best efforts, and has never socialised with them as much as you tried to encourage her/him to do so.
The behaviour of The respondent has been very erratic over the recent past, with regular mood shifts and unprovoked anger, which made you feel uneasy and scared in the relationship.
The respondent is obsessive in his/her habits and is constantly critical if you don’t meet his/her high standards, which you are unable to tolerate any longer.
The respondent is obsessed by ___________________________, and spends most of his/her free time doing this, to the exclusion of the family.
The respondent ________________________________________________________, which has caused you: ____________________________________________________________.


Your spouse had sexual intercourse with someone of their opposite sex. In the UK, only physical sexual intercourse between a party and a person - of the opposite sex who is not their spouse - satisfies the requirements for a party to use this as a ground for divorce. If this applies to you, you are required to file for divorce within 6 months of becoming aware of the adultery if you still live together. Please note that becoming aware is not the same as when the adultery took place.

This reason poses few issues if the party who committed the adultery is willing to admit to it. However, in the event that they are not willing to do so, because the actual occurence of the adultery can be hard to prove, you may need to file on grounds of inappropriate and unreasonable behaviour on their part, for maintaining an extramarital relationship.


Desertion is sometimes referred to as abandonment and signifies that your spouse has left you without your agreement and consent, without a good reason to end your relationship or has been away for more than 2 years in a 2.5-year period.

Please note, if a party leaves a marriage because their spouse has made it impossible for them to stay, the party leaving the marriage can claim constructive desertion, in that their spouse made it intolerable to stay in the marriage, for example because they were acting in a very unreasonable way.

Lived apart 2 years

You have lived apart for at least 2 years and agree on the divorce. Sometimes a couple will separate and live apart for a period of time before they actually divorce, but in such circumstances you will need to provide proof that you have indeed lived apart during these 2 or more years by providing your separate addresses. It is also essential that your spouse agrees to the divorce on the same ground, and will confirm this when returning their Acknowledgement of service form.

If pursuing this as your reason for divorce, you do not actually need to say anything else in your divorce petition about why you separated. You need only say that you have been separated for 2 years, or more, and that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Lived apart 5 years

You have lived apart for more than 5 years. Unlike when filing on the ground that you have Lived apart 2 years, if this period of separation is 5 years or more it does not matter legally if you and your spouse agree on the divorce or not. As the Petitioner you can pray that the court grants you a divorce on the grounds that such a time has elapsed since you separated. Again, you will need to provide proof by supplying your separate addresses but this time you do not require your spouse´s acknowledgement in writing.

That said, a judge will most likely require that you have been proactive in trying to locate their whereabouts in order to consult them regarding the divorce. You should not assume that just because their written consent is not required, you can just go ahead and divorce them without them having knowledge of this. Again, if using this ground for divorce, the reasons for the breakdown of your marriage are not relevant. It doesn’t matter who left who, only that you consider the marriage to have broken down irretrievably.