Grounds for Divorce

If you have been married for more than 12 months, then you can start divorce proceedings. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the grounds for divorce and how they are used.


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There is technically only one ground for divorce

In England and Wales there is technically only one ground for divorce. This is that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.

In previous years, a spouse would often have needed to cite a ‘fault’ based reason for the marriage breakdown in order to divorce (e.g. their spouse’s unreasonable behaviour or their adultery). However, when the law changed in April 2022 to a ‘no-fault’ based approach, neither spouse is required to cite reasons for the marriage breakdown. Additionally, neither spouse can object to the divorce based on the reasons their partner wishes to divorce. Put simply, if a spouse wishes to divorce (and the marriage is valid as well as the divorce application being valid) then their partner cannot object to it. A couple can also apply for a divorce jointly if they wish.

The timescales for divorce are clearly defined and can be completed in 26 weeks (6 months). This period comprises of a ‘minimum period’ of 20 weeks between the beginning of proceedings when the divorce application is issued, and when the applicant(s) can apply for a ‘conditional order’ for the court to formally recognise the couple’s eligibility to divorce. A minimum timeframe applies of 6-weeks between the date of the conditional order and when the final order (previously called ‘Decree Absolute’) can be applied for. This is the point at which the marriage formally ends.

It is hoped that these changes will provide couples with a period of reflection, and where divorce cannot be avoided, gives parties a greater opportunity for them to agree practical arrangements for the future.

Divorce: sole applications

In a sole application for divorce, the person applying will be referred to as the ‘applicant’ and their spouse will be known as the ‘respondent’. Once an application has been made by one party it cannot be amended to a joint application (i.e. both spouses apply for divorce together), so the decision whether to apply solely or jointly must be made at the beginning.

Applications can be made online via gov.uk’s digital service or on paper using the D8 form. They can be made by applicants by themselves as ‘litigants in person’ or by a solicitor on behalf of the applicant.

In some cases, applicants can apply for help with fees if they have little or no savings and either have a low income or are in receipt of certain benefits.

In a sole application the respondent can only object to the application in limited circumstances, which are:

  • The jurisdiction of the court in England and Wales to conduct the proceedings isn’t appropriate for the divorce. This might occur when neither party lives or has any connection to England and Wales.
  • There is a dispute as to the validity of the marriage/civil partnership, such as cases where the parties had not legally entered into a valid marriage/civil partnership.
  • The marriage/civil partnership has already ended, such as where the marriage/civil partnership has been severed in proceedings outside of England and Wales.
  • It is also possible to dispute proceedings because of fraud and procedural compliance.

Serving the application

The application can now be served on the respondent via email. However, postal notification is also required. This is a letter that is sent to the respondent’s postal address informing them an application has been made, and that a link to view the application has been sent to their usual email address. This should be the email address that is actively being used for the respondent’s personal emails. Business email addresses should be avoided where possible.

In practice, if the applicant provides an email address, the divorce application will be served on the respondent via email, with a notice confirming this has been done, sent to them by post.

If there is a failure of service notification, the applicant may request the court to serve the divorce application again at a different email or postal address. If this fails for a second time, the court will not attempt to serve it again and the process will continue anyway.

Divorce: joint applications

If both parties apply for a divorce, dissolution or judicial separation together, they will be equally responsible for the application, and known as applicant 1 and applicant 2. As opposed to applicant and respondent.

There may be some circumstances where it may not be suitable to make a joint application. For example where one party has experienced domestic abuse. In this case, a sole application can be made instead.

As with sole applications, they can be made digitally or on paper and can be made by applicants themselves or with the assistance of a solicitor acting on behalf of one or both of the parties.

Joint applicants can agree between themselves how they will pay the fee for the application, although if an application is made digitally, applicant 1 will have to pay the fee. For paper applications, either applicant may insert their details on the court fee page of the form.

Both applicants can apply for help with fees if they have little or no savings and either receive certain benefits or are on a low income. If this is the case for only one applicant, help with fees will not be available for joint applicants.

If a joint applicant finds themselves in a situation where they are unable to continue with it, perhaps because the relationship has deteriorated, or if the other party refuses to engage in the process or taking the required action to progress the application, it is possible to ‘switch’ the application from joint to sole. Although this can only happen at ‘conditional order’ and ‘final order’ application stage.

If a joint applicant wishes to proceed as a sole application at final order stage, the applicant must give 14 days’ notice to the other party of their intention to provide notice to the court they wish the order to be made final.

Do you need help with your divorce?

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If relevant, please include below the name of the other party (so the solicitor can check they have not already provided advice to your partner):

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