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Basis for divorce

This information only applies in England and Wales.

The divorce (or dissolution) process in England and Wales changed significantly on 6 April 2022 with the introduction of ‘no-fault divorce’, under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. Previously, to apply for a divorce you had to rely on one of the five possible ‘grounds for divorce’. Now, no-fault divorce only requires that the relationship has ‘irretrievably’ broken down.

The five grounds for divorce can no longer be relied on - but they were required by law until very recently. The possible grounds were:

  • adultery -  where your spouse has had sexual intercourse with someone else of the opposite sex

  • unreasonable behaviour -  this can include serious accusations including domestic violence or drunkenness, as well as rather vague issues such as lack of support in maintaining a household

  • living apart for more than 2 years (with agreement)

  • living apart for more than 5 years (without agreement)

  • desertion -  if your spouse left you, without your agreement or a good reason and with the intention of ending the relationship

In practice, divorcing couples who both wanted to get divorced would often choose 'unreasonable behaviour' as a catch-all ground. In reality, there was a very low standard for what qualified as unreasonable behaviour.

Under the new no-fault divorce law, applicants no longer need to meet one of the five grounds for divorce.

Irretrievable breakdown

From 6 April 2022, you can apply for a divorce (or dissolution) on the sole ground that the marriage (or civil partnership) has broken down irretrievably

This means that the partners believe there is no reasonable possibility of them resolving the issues in their partnership and deciding to continue with their marriage (or civil partnership). Irretrievable breakdown can include any of the situations which made up the old five grounds for divorce (eg unreasonable behaviour or adultery). It can also include more vague issues, which do not need to be explained in the application form. 

Defending a divorce

Under the no-fault divorce process, divorces can no longer be ‘defended’. This is because there are no allegations to argue against, as the party applying for divorce no longer makes allegations against the other party when they apply (eg by applying based on alleged adultery). Instead, a statement of irretrievable breakdown by a single partner is sufficient grounds for separation. 

In other words, no-fault divorce removes the requirement to prove a ground for divorce and, as a result, doesn’t require one party to argue that the divorce is the other party’s fault.

In practice, the applicants (ie the parties applying for the divorce, whether this is one or both of the spouses or civil partners) must make a statement of irretrievable breakdown. To do this, the applicant (or all applicants where both spouse or civil partners are applying together) must do is tick the box in the divorce application form (Form D8, or the online equivalent) confirming that their marriage or civil partnership has broken down irretrievably. No other evidence is required to prove to the courts that an irretrievable breakdown has occurred.

For more information on how to apply for divorce, read The divorce process.