Check you can get a divorce

You can get divorced in England or Wales if all of the following are true:

  • you’ve been married for over a year
  • your relationship has permanently broken down
  • your marriage is legally recognised in the UK (including same-sex marriage)
  • the UK is your permanent home, or the permanent home of your husband or wife

If you do not want a divorce, you can get a legal separation so you can live apart without ending the marriage. You might also be able to annul the marriage. You can apply for separation or annulment during your first year of marriage.

Getting a divorce is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Grounds for divorce

When you apply for a divorce you’ll need to prove that your marriage has broken down and cannot be saved. You’ll need to give one or more of the following 5 reasons (also known as ‘facts’).

Adultery

Your husband or wife had sexual intercourse with someone else of the opposite sex (committed adultery).

You cannot give adultery as a reason if you lived together as a couple for more than 6 months after you found out about it.

Unreasonable behaviour

Your husband or wife has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.

This could include:

  • physical violence
  • verbal abuse, such as insults or threats
  • drunkenness or drug-taking
  • refusing to pay towards shared living expenses

Desertion

Your husband or wife has left you for at least 2 years before you apply for divorce.

You can still claim desertion if you have lived together for up to a total of 6 months in this period, but that will not count towards the 2 years.

You’ve been separated for at least 2 years

You can apply for a divorce if you’ve been separated for at least 2 years before applying for divorce and you both agree to it.

Your husband or wife must agree in writing.

It may be possible for you to show that you’ve been separated while living in the same home as your wife or husband as long as you’re not living together as a couple (for example you sleep and eat apart).

You’ve been separated for at least 5 years

You can apply for a divorce if you’ve been separated for at least 5 years before applying, even if your husband or wife disagrees.

  1. Step 1 Get support and advice

    You can get support or counselling to help you through the divorce process.

    1. Get support and advice from Relate
    2. Find a counsellor on Counselling Directory
  2. Step 2 Check if you can get divorced

  3. Step 3 Make arrangements for children, money and property

  4. Step 4 Apply for a divorce

  5. Step 5 Apply for 'decree nisi'

    You need to apply for a 'decree nisi' and give the court more information about why your marriage has broken down.

    1. Apply for a decree nisi
  6. Step 6 Finalise your divorce

    You need to apply for a 'decree absolute' to finalise your divorce. You'll have to wait 6 weeks and 1 day from the date of your decree nisi.

    1. Apply for a decree absolute

    Once the court approves your decree absolute, they'll send you both a copy of it and your divorce will be complete.

  7. Step 7 Report that your circumstances have changed

    You also have to tell other government organisations that you're getting divorced if: