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Grounds for Divorce in the UK

Grounds for divorce in the UK

It is no secret that not every marriage lasts forever, and despite a recent decline in divorce rates, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, tales of celebrity feuds and hefty settlements flood the media at regular intervals. Free from much of the stigma formerly attached to it, divorce is now accepted as a chance for a fresh start. However, the process can feel confusing and overwhelming without the correct guidance.In order to file for a divorce, your marriage must have lasted for at least one year, and be legally recognised in the UK. You must also have a permanent home in the UK, and show that your marriage has reached a state of ‘irretrievable breakdown’. This, in turn, needs to be proven in one of five ways, described as ‘grounds for divorce’.

No Problem Too Small

While couples may cite any number of seemingly bizarre reasons for the breakdown of their marriage, the official grounds stated on the divorce paperwork are necessarily very uniform. For example, singer Cheryl Fernandez-Versini’s brief marriage to restaurateur Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini has been suggested to have broken down due to his jealousy of her time spent with others, including her two chihuahuas. However, the reason cited is simply ‘unreasonable behaviour.’

Danielle and Gary Lineker’s divorce papers also cited ‘unreasonable behaviour’, but in their case, this was a mutual decision, reached as a consequence of the UK’s lack of a ‘no-fault’ divorce option. Meanwhile, in the United States, Chris Rock’s divorce filing cited ‘irreconcilable differences’, while his official line was that he “was tired of being married”.

Five Grounds for Divorce

In the UK, the five accepted grounds are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, living apart for at least two years, and living apart for at least five years. If another party is named, as may occur if unfaithfulness is the primary reason for the divorce, that individual will also receive a copy of the divorce petition. Depending on the grounds chosen, and any opposition from the spouse to whom the petition is served, more precise details might be requested.

  1. Adultery

If one or both partners have engaged in a sexual relationship outside of the marriage, then the adultery grounds may be used. However, this only applies if the divorce petition is filed within six months of the adultery being discovered. This is because it is only accepted as a reason for divorce if the other partner cannot bear to live with their spouse as a result. It is also important to note that only sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex are defined as adultery by the court. Therefore, a filing of unreasonable behaviour may be appropriate if a spouse is found to have been unfaithful with a member of the same sex.

  1. Unreasonable Behaviour

An unreasonable behaviour filing is a common choice as it applies to any behaviour as a result of which you can no longer bear to live with your spouse. This encompasses unruly or illegal behaviour such as drunkenness or taking drugs, as well as abuse, whether physical or otherwise, including threats, insults, and manipulation. Other examples of unreasonable behaviour can include matters such as unfaithfulness, or refusal to contribute to household expenses.

  1. Desertion

You may be able to cite desertion as your grounds for divorce if your spouse has left you without your agreement and without good reason, or in order to bring an end to your relationship. If your spouse has been absent for more than two years within the space of the past 30 months, you may not need their consent for the divorce to go through.

  1. Living Apart for More Than 2 Years

You can also file for divorce if you and your spouse have spent more than two years living apart immediately prior to the divorce. However, as with a desertion filing, you may have lived together for up to six months during this period. Your spouse must also agree in writing to the filing.

  1. Living Apart for More Than 5 Years

Much the same as the two-year separation grounds, this final option has the advantage of not requiring consent from your spouse. If you can show that you have lived apart for over five years, the court will usually grant the divorce on these grounds.

A Personal Matter

No matter how unusual your reasons may seem to an outside party, the crux of the matter is that no one should feel compelled to remain in a relationship where they are unhappy. Jennifer Lopez describes a series of panic attacks that eventually made her realise it was time to end her marriage to Marc Anthony. Other couples, such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, simply realise they work better as friends than as a couple.

Divorce is a very personal matter, and this can make choosing your grounds challenging, particularly if neither party wishes to assign blame. The closest grounds to no-fault divorce available in the UK is living apart for two or five years, and this is far from practical in most cases.

Divorce or Annulment?

Of course, another option is to consider annulment, although this is only possible in very specific circumstances. This includes cases where the marriage was not legally valid, for example due to one or both parties being already married, or underage. Other circumstances include marriages which were never consummated, or which were entered into while drunk or under duress. Such was the case with Britney Spears’ 55 hour marriage to Jason Alexander, which she later described as “a joke that went too far”.

Choosing the correct grounds can help to speed up the divorce process by minimising the amount of time spent clarifying and disputing the matter. It may even have an impact on the final settlement. Fortunately, it is often possible to reach an agreement either in collaboration with your spouse, or under the advice of your lawyer.

While this is no guarantee of a trouble-free divorce, having the correct guidance can certainly aid the process, facilitating a more rapid resolution, and strengthening your case in the event of a dispute, by ensuring you have made an informed and considered decision.

For more information, please see our Frequently Asked Questions about divorce.

Muna Saleem
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Muna Saleem

Associate Solicitor at Crisp & Co Solicitors
Muna Saleem is an associate solicitor at family law firm Crisp & Co. She practices in all areas of private family law including divorce and financial remedy applications, financial settlements, cohabitee disputes, as well as Child Arrangement Orders and international relocation applications.
Muna Saleem
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