What are the grounds for divorce in the UK?
Prior to April 2022, the law required a person seeking a divorce to satisfy the Court that the legal test of irretrievable breakdown of marriage was met by citing in the divorce petition one or more of the following five “facts” as the grounds for divorce: namely: desertion, adultery, behaviour, 2 years separation with consent or 5 years separation without consent. This often led to heated battles and character assassinations, adding tension and conflict to an already unhappy situation.
Since the introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 in April 2022, the only grounds for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. The new no fault divorce law ends the need to blame or find fault in the grounds for divorce. An application for divorce today simply requires you to tick a box confirming that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, and no further evidence will be required.
The intention behind the new law is that the decision to divorce should be a considered one, and that separating couples should be able to have a more amicable divorce or dissolution.
Do I need a reason to divorce?
Yes, under the new no fault grounds for divorce you only need to confirm that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. No other grounds for divorce, or specific facts are required.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, irretrievable means “impossible to correct or return to a previously existing situation or condition”.
Irretrievable breakdown of marriage can therefore be defined as a situation in which either or both the parties no longer wish to live together, and the relationship is damaged to the point that it cannot be repaired and continuing the marriage will only further cause loss and damage to the parties.
It is a marriage with no hope of reconciliation no matter how much therapy and/or counselling a couple receives.
In a recent Supreme Court of India case the definition of “irretrievably broken down” was defined as “…. the marriage must be totally unworkable, emotionally dead and beyond salvation”.
The reason for the breakdown of the marriage can still include any of the situations which made up the old grounds for divorce such as behaviour or adultery and can also include more vague issues.
The main difference under the new no fault divorce law and the previous grounds for divorce is that the causes for the breakdown of the relationship do not need to be explained in the application form.
All that is required today is that it is confirmed that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is done by one or both spouses making a joint divorce application that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This statement is taken as conclusive evidence.
Can you divorce without grounds?
Under the new no fault divorce law, you can now divorce WITHOUT having to rely on one of the following 5 facts:
- 2 years separation by consent
- 5 years separation.
Under the old grounds for divorce you were required to provide specific details of the allegations being made against your spouse or civil partner as to why the relationship had broken down. These may have included details of the behaviour that had caused the breakdown of the marriage, or details of sexual intercourse with another person.
Whilst some couples may have had good reason to place fault with their former partner, many did not. This resulted in some who wished to divorce being forced to find or embellish fault where none existed. This would often create upset and tension for those couples who wished to separate amicably.
Under the new no-fault divorce law, it is no longer necessary to provide any specific details such as behaviour, adultery, desertion, or separation. The only ground is that either one of you, or both, consider the marriage to have irretrievably broken down.
Can I contest/dispute the grounds for divorce
Contesting a divorce today is far more difficult than was previously the case. Under the new divorce law UK you can only dispute the divorce if you have a legal reason. These include:
Jurisdiction – if you of your partner live in another country, the courts in England and Wales may not be handle your application.
If you can prove that the marriage or civil partnership was never valid. For example, if the marriage/civil partnership was not conducted in accordance with the laws of the country in which you married, meaning you did not enter a legally legitimate marriage/civil partnership.
If the marriage/civil partnership has already legally ended. For example, if you’ve already gone through divorce proceedings in another country.
If any of the reasons for contesting a divorce apply, you will need to file a response to the application explaining your reason for disputing the proceedings.
What if I don’t want a divorce?
The new law takes away the ability to oppose a divorce and any disagreement is irrelevant in UK divorce law.
As the only ground for divorce now is that one or both parties believe the marriage has irretrievably broken down, it does not matter whether you challenge or disagree with the application for divorce. No other facts have a bearing on the divorce process or outcome.
The new law is effectively saying that it takes two to remain in a marriage.
Do grounds for divorce affect financial settlement?
The reason for the breakdown of the relationship has no bearing on the financial settlement arising from a divorce or dissolution. Whilst there is no set formula that a Judge uses when it comes to determining a financial settlement on divorce, there are a set of principles that a Judge will use to reach a fair outcome. These three key principles are: needs, sharing, and compensation.
Frequently asked questions and answers
What it number one reason for divorce?
The number one reason and only reason for divorce under the new divorce law is the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership.
Can I still divorce based on a spouse’s adultery or behaviour?
Yes and no. You can still use their adultery or behaviour as the reason why you consider the marriage to have irretrievably broken down, but you cannot specifically cite adultery or behaviour as a ground for divorce under no-fault divorce.
Do you have to wait 2 years for a divorce?
No, you no longer have to be separated for 2 years before you can divorce with both parties consent. Under the new divorce law, as long as you have been in a marriage or civil partnership for 1 year or longer, and one of you considers the marriage/partnership to have irretrievably broken down – you are entitled to commence proceedings without any period of waiting or separation.
What do you have to prove to get a divorce?
You only need to confirm the marriage/civil partnership has irretrievably broken down by making a single or joint statement in the Divorce Application.
Do I still need to prove adultery or behaviour to get a divorce?
Since April 2022, it is no longer necessary to cite a fact such as adultery or behaviour to get a divorce. The only ground now is that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. The cause of the breakdown may have been an affair or the other party’s behaviour, but it is no longer necessary to specifically provide details of that fact.
Does it matter who files for divorce in the UK?
It makes no difference whatsoever who files for divorce. An application for divorce or dissolution can be made by one person or jointly by both spouses/partners.
What is the minimum time for divorce in the UK?
The minimum period to complete the divorce/dissolution process is approximately six months. It is important to remember that dealing with financial matters is a separate process.
Is it possible to apply for a quick no fault divorce?
It takes on average 37.5 weeks from start to finish to finalise a divorce or dissolution. However, if you make a joint application for divorce or dissolution this may shorten the process as an Acknowledgment of Service will not have to be sent as both parties are applying for the divorce/dissolution.
Do both parties have to agree to divorce in UK?
No, only one party needs to consider the marriage or civil partnership to have broken down.
I want a divorce after 9 months of marriage
To commence divorce proceedings you must have been married for a minimum of 1 year. If you believe the marriage to have irretrievably broken down, you could always formally or informally separate until you are able to commence divorce proceedings. If you wish to formalise your separation you could enter into a Separation Agreement.
What could cause the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage?
Issues that could cause a marriage to irretrievably break down include: extra-marital affairs, lack of sexual intimacy, financial problems, loss of trust, being separated, inability to communicate, violent or abusive behaviour, growing apart due to different goals and interests, different political or religious beliefs.