What Is the Law for Divorce in England and Wales?

Family and divorce law in England and Wales. Justice statue with sword and scale and marriage certificate

Every country is different and, therefore, has its own laws when it comes to legal proceedings such as divorce. In this post, we’ll discuss the laws and requirements for getting a divorce in England and Wales.

Although a large percentage of couples enjoy long and happy marriages, there are still many who opt for divorce. A marriage is a legally binding contract, which means it can’t simply be dissolved as soon as a relationship breaks down. To successfully file for divorce, there are certain requirements that need to be met: some require a minimum period of separation, while others can lead to an immediate divorce.

Below, we provide all the need-to-know information about getting a divorce in England and Wales.

Check if You Can Get a Divorce

First of all, you will need to establish whether or not you can apply to get a divorce. To do so, you will need to meet the following requirements:  

  • You can get a divorce in England or Wales if the marriage has lasted for at least a year and your relationship has completely broken down, with no chance of reconciliation.
  • Your marriage must be legally recognised in the UK, which includes same-sex marriages.
  • You must also have a permanent residence in England or Wales.

If you don’t want to get a divorce, but you do want to end the relationship, you can opt for a legal separation, which allows you to go your separate ways, but remain married. This is often done for religious reasons because a couple wants to trial a separation, or to maintain pension programmes. You may also be able to annul the marriage.

Grounds for Divorce in England and Wales

To successfully apply for divorce, there needs to be sufficient evidence that your marriage has completely broken down. When it comes to divorce in England and Wales, one of the following grounds needs to be present:

Unreasonable Behaviour: This is the most commonly cited reason for divorce, as it covers a wide range of incidents and behaviour. Examples include drug and alcohol abuse, physical or verbal abuse, derogatory behaviour, and having an inappropriate relationship with another person (but not necessarily an affair).

Desertion: If your spouse has packed up and left your relationship and the family home, this can be incredibly frustrating and cause you to want to end the marriage. Fortunately, desertion is one of the accepted grounds for divorce in England and Wales. If a spouse has left and ended the relationship (with no intention to divorce), without providing a valid reason or without any warning, you can start the divorce process.  

If they have been absent for at least two of the last two and a half years, you can claim desertion — if you lived together for six months during this timeframe.

Adultery: Although adultery or “cheating” can mean many different things depending whom you ask, in a legal sense and as a ground for divorce, adultery means having sex with another person. If you can prove that your partner has engaged in sexual intercourse with another party, you will be able to apply for divorce.

With that said, you won’t be able to use adultery as a reason for divorce if you continued to live with your partner during the six months following the discovery.

Separation of two years (with consent) or five years (without consent): If you opted to separate and have been apart for two years, the court will accept this as evidence that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, providing you both consent to the divorce. Although separated couples can live under the same roof, it’s essential to demonstrate that you have been living separate lives and not that of a couple.

In the case where couples been separated for five years or more, you can apply for a divorce without the consent of the other party.

Do you live in England or Wales and meet the requirements of applying for divorce? If so, KMJ Solicitors can guide you through the divorce process and ensure the best possible outcome for you and your family. Get in touch today to schedule your FREE, no-obligation consultation.

Clayton spent five years working in family law with a firm in Australia before moving to the UK in 1999. He deals with all aspects of family law, specialising in all family matters, offshore trusts, company structures, international law, prenuptial agreements, high net worth cases and cohabitation law.