What are the grounds for divorce in the UK in 2023?

26 June 2023
The landscape for divorce was reformed in 2022 in an effort to combat acrimony and result in a more harmonious separation for many divorcing couples. Meaning for 2023, it is important to know where you stand with regard to grounds for divorce and if the new changes introduced may impact the legal proceedings.
Image grounds for divorce
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 became law on April 6th, 2022, removing the concept of fault from the divorce process. This was a previous requirement that placed blame or assigned a specific reason for the breakdown of the marriage.

Under the new no-fault divorce law, you will no longer be asked to prove the irretrievable breakdown of marriage to a court by citing 1 of the 5 grounds for divorce previously used in the UK.

This ultimately means divorcing couples can now file for divorce solely on the basis of the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage without citing specific grounds for divorce.

Additionally, the option for either spouse to contest the divorce has been removed. Thus resulting in less of a chance that the divorce process will descend into a long-protracted court battle, allowing the application to proceed without friction or additional costs.

The five grounds for divorce in the UK (pre-2022 no-fault law)

To get a divorce in the UK before the introduction of no-fault divorce in 2022 you had to prove that the marriage had broken down and was unable to be retrieved by establishing 1 of 5 available facts. These facts became known as “grounds for divorce” or even “reasons for divorce” and are as follows:


In legal terms, adultery constitutes the act of having sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse. It refers specifically to the physical act of sexual intercourse and as such, other sexual, romantic and emotional acts like kissing or touching are not considered acts of adultery.

Under the term adultery, if a partner were to have had sexual intercourse with a member of the same sex, then this would not be considered adultery in a court of law. Under UK law, adultery is defined as intercourse between a man and a woman.

In 2018, it was found that only 10.1% of divorces in the UK were granted on the basis of adultery. This has been attributed to how difficult it is to prove the offending partner physically engaged in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex outside of their marriage. It also neglected same-sex couples who were unable to cite adultery as grounds for divorce.

Is there a difference between adultery and infidelity legally?

Infidelity is not the same as adultery. Infidelity wasn’t legally a reason for divorce under UK law pre-2022. For example; if a wife’s husband kissed another woman but did not have sexual intercourse with them, it would not be considered adultery but infidelity. As such, before the introduction of the no-fault divorce, it would be necessary to cite “unreasonable behaviour” as grounds for the divorce which is a much broader term.

Unreasonable behaviour

An unreasonable behaviour filing was a common choice as it applied to any behaviour as a result of which you could no longer bear to live with your spouse. This encompassed 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 included matters such as unfaithfulness (separate from adultery and more in line with infidelity) or refusal to contribute to household expenses.

Separation for 2 years with consent

You were able to file for divorce if you and your partner had spent more than two years living separately prior to the divorce of your own volition. However, just as with a desertion filing, you may have lived together for up to six months within this time frame. In order to file for this your spouse must agree in writing to the filing.

Separation for 5 years total

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


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

What are the benefits of no-fault divorce?

  • Simplicity

No-fault divorce allows couples to obtain a divorce without the need to outline the bad behaviour of the spouse or prove fault. Making the process of obtaining the divorce much simpler for all parties involved and less contentious. Reducing the legal battles makes everyone's life easier.

  • Increased Privacy

A no-fault divorce can be more private because it does not require the parties to air their dirty laundry in court. This can be beneficial for couples who want to keep the details of their divorce private, especially if there are sensitive or personal matters involved.

  • Reduced Conflict

A no-fault divorce can help to reduce conflict between the divorcing parties as it does not require the need to provide evidence or a statement outlining the bad behaviour of their spouse. Completely avoiding the popular blame game.

  • Cost Savings

A no-fault divorce may be less expensive than a traditional divorce because it minimises the amount of solicitor correspondence associated with agreeing to the contents of the divorce application. This will significantly drive down expenditure.

  • Additional time to consider options

There is a minimum waiting period of 20 weeks between the application being issued and being able to apply for the conditional order. Plus, a further 6 weeks and 1 day between the conditional order and Final Order.  This is a longer period than under the old rules pre-April 2022. This gives divorcing couples the opportunity for additional time to consider their options and potentially reconcile before moving forward with finalising the divorce.


To finish up and reaffirm some of the key points from the article, there were five grounds for divorce in the UK prior to 2023:

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Living apart for five years
  • Irretrievable breakdown of marriage

However, now you are not legally required to file for divorce using one of these five grounds with the introduction of no-fault divorce legislation introduced in April 2022.

If you are considering divorce, it is important to speak to a qualified divorce solicitor to discuss your options. Our solicitors can help you to understand the law and prepare the necessary paperwork.

It is also important to remember that divorce is a major life change. It can be emotionally and financially draining. If you are considering divorce, it is important to be prepared for the challenges ahead.

If you are struggling to cope with the emotional impact of divorce, there are many resources available to help you. You can speak to a therapist, counsellor, or support group. There are also many books and websites that can offer guidance and support.