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Grounds for Divorce – When Can You Legally Start Divorce Proceedings?

Grounds for divorce - when you can legally start divorce proceedings?

There are five legal facts for divorce in English and Welsh law.
In order to start divorce proceedings against your husband or wife so that you can formally end your marriage or civil partnership, you must have been married for at least one year and be able to prove that your relationship has broken down irreconcilably, which is the ground for the divorce, due to one of the following 5 reasons:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. Separated for at least 2 years
  5. Separated for at least 5 years

According to Nimblefins, one third of all marriages in England and Wales in the last 50 years have ended in divorce. In 2019 alone, there were 108,421 divorces across the two countries and this figure is likely to have increased again for 2021 following the tumultuous coronavirus lockdown and the added pressure that this intense lockdown scenario has put on already strained relationships.

Coming to the decision to end a relationship is often a sad, and stressful time, but you can’t just decide to divorce somebody because you’ve fallen out of love. In order to be able to start divorce proceedings, you must have the legal grounds for divorce and one of the facts of divorce, mentioned above, and you will need the support of a solicitor specialising in family law and divorce proceedings to help you to issue divorce papers to your husband or wife.

At Hattons Solicitors we have a team of family law solicitors dedicated to dealing with all matters of divorce and separation on behalf of our clients in and around the North West of England. From the simplest, to the most complex of cases, we can advise you of your best options with regards to divorce, as well as answer any questions you may have informally before deciding if you would like to proceed with formal divorce proceedings.

Talk to Hattons Solicitors today

Click this link to send us a message or call us on 01744 744400 for a friendly chat.

Read on for more detailed information on the five grounds for divorce, what your options are, and how a solicitor is able to help you navigate this difficult time in your life in complete confidence. 

What does it mean to get divorced - grounds for divorce, when you can legally start divorce proceedings

What Does It Mean To Get Divorced?

Getting a divorce is the legal process that two people must go through in order to completely dissolve their marriage or civil partnership. By the end of the process, the marriage union will have ended and both parties are free to go their own way.

How Does Divorce Work?

Divorce proceedings take time and there are several key stages that must be completed in order for a marriage to be legally dissolved.

  1. One party must issue the divorce petition to the courts. This must set out the reason for the divorce (why your marriage broke down), how you intend to deal with any children and any arrangement you’ve made for finances .A fee of £550 is payable to the courts at this point and your marriage certificate must be provided.

Completing the divorce petition is one of the most important elements of divorce proceedings to get right. It therefore is in your interest to seek the services of a solicitor that can guide you through this. This will reduce the chance of making mistakes or missing out information that will be costly to put right at a later stage in the process.

  1. The court sends a copy of the divorce petition to the other party (the respondent) along with an acknowledgement of service form.
  2. The respondent must acknowledge the petition from the divorce courts within seven days
  3. Once acknowledged, the petitioner files for decree nisi and provides a statement in support of divorce.
  4. If the judge sees no reason why your divorce cannot go ahead, your decree nisi will become pronounced and a pronouncement date will be set.
  5. A Judge considers the petition and if the grounds are accepted, the petition is granted a decree nisi
  6. After 6 weeks and 1 day following the decree nisi, the petitioner can apply for a decree absolute, if appropriate and you will be advised about this.
  7. Once the courts grant the decree absolute, the divorce is complete and the marriage is legally ended.

During divorce proceedings, it’s important to agree how to divide up any joint assets that you share such as money, property, and pensions, as well as agreeing how any children or dependents you have will be taken care of.

You must obtain a financial court order which requires a solicitor to draw up a consent order to document the divorce settlement that you have reached with your husband or wife. If there is no joint money, assets or children then you may be able to apply for a clean break order which will prevent any future claims being made against either party.

All of the steps outlined above can be managed via your solicitor to ensure they are completed in a timely manner and handled correctly to prevent unnecessary delay or further cost to you. Using a solicitor to manage communications between both sides can be particularly beneficial in keeping the process professional and on track, which can quickly become hard to do yourself when emotions are running high.

Talk to Hattons Solicitors today

Click this link to send us a message or call us on 01744 744400 for a friendly chat.

Reasons for divorce and when they can be used - grounds for divorce

Reasons For Divorce And When They Can Be Used

As we mentioned at the start of this article, there are five legal grounds for divorce, but what are they and what do they actually cover? Our divorce team have outlined the options below:


Contrary to popular belief, adultery isn’t when one half of a married couple cheats on the other with somebody else. Adultery has only occurred when your husband or wife has engaged in sexual intercourse with somebody else of the opposite sex. Adultery can also only be cited as grounds for divorce if you did not continue to live together as a couple for more than six months after you found out about the adultery taking place.

Unreasonable Behaviour

This reason for divorce is one of the most commonly cited in divorce proceedings because it covers all manner of situations. Unreasonable behaviour can be used as a grounds for divorce if you are subjected to; physical violence, verbal abuse, substance abuse including alcohol or narcotics, if your partner has started a relationship with somebody of the same sex outside of your marriage, and if they refuse to pay towards shared living expenses.


Desertion can be used as a grounds for divorce if your husband or wife has left you for at least two years prior to your divorce application. As with adultery, there are rules about living together during the separation period but you can still claim desertion if you have lived together for up to 6 months in total during the two year period.

Separated For At Least 2 Years

To use this grounds for divorce, you must have been separated for at least two years before applying for a divorce and your husband or wife must agree to it in writing. You may be able to use this reason to start divorce proceedings if you are still living in the same home but you must be able to prove that you are not living together as a couple. For example, you may be sleeping and eating apart.

Separated For At Least 5 Years

Finally, if you have been separated from your wife or husband for at least five years, you may use this as a legal reason to apply for divorce. Crucially, in this case, your spouse does not have to agree like they do with the previous 2 year clause.

What Does A Divorce Lawyer Do?

Experienced divorce lawyers, like the team here at Hattons will provide a safe pair of hands and a constant point of contact to help you navigate the divorce process correctly. A lawyer’s main aim is to guide you towards a fair settlement and ensure you protect yourself from future legal disagreements so that you can move on with your life.

During the process of getting divorced, your solicitor will manage all legal requirements documents and communications to successfully complete each stage of the divorce proceedings outlined above. From filing petitions, responding to petitions, liaising with your spouse’s solicitors and ensuring that somebody is looking out for your best interests in order to award you the most favourable settlement available.

It is only natural that you will want the whole process wrapped up as soon as possible in order to close this emotionally stressful time in your life. Using a solicitor that can act with a clear head, devoid of any emotional investment in the situation will ensure that nothing is missed and every step is completed correctly the first time, which is much harder to do when trying to navigate divorce without a solicitor in your camp.

Related Questions

How Long Does It Take To Get A Divorce

If both parties agree to the divorce along with the proposed division of assets and the reasons given as the grounds of divorce, then the legal process can be complete in around 6 – 8 months. If however relations between the two parties are strained and there are disagreements in how to manage the division of assets or the grounds of divorce that should be used, then the whole process can take several years. Whether your divorce is simple or complex, an experienced divorce lawyer will be able to make the whole process as simple as possible for you and ensure you are treated fairly.

Why Do People Get Divorced

Relationships go through highs and lows throughout their duration but if you have reached the point where you are considering divorcing your spouse, then this could be due to any number of reasons. Although every relationship is different, and the reasons you want to divorce your partner are totally specific to you, there are some common themes of behaviour that can lead to one party petitioning the other for a divorce.

  • Financial issues
  • Feeling unhappy for a long time
  • No emotional support
  • Fallen out of love
  • Cheating
  • Domestic or emotional abuse
  • You married too soon
  • Communication problems

Although reasons for divorce differ between couples, and the list above isn’t exhaustive, it’s fair to say that divorce is the very last option to a marriage in crisis, and is certainly not a decision to be taken lightly. Going through a divorce, as either the petitioner (the person who initiated the divorce), or the respondent (the person in receipt of divorce papers), can be a stressful, emotional, and often financially draining process. The entire divorce procedure can take several months to several years to be finalised depending on the complexity of your case and if both parties are still on good terms or not.


If you have reached a point in your marriage when you are unable to reconcile any breakdown of the relationship, this article has explained when you are able to start divorce proceedings against your husband or wife, and the legal basis you have for doing so.

To recap, you must have been married for at least one year and be able to cite one of five legal grounds for divorce. These are; adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation of at least 2 years, or you must have been separated for at least 5 years.

If you would like to discuss starting divorce proceedings against your husband or wife, or would like to know how to get the process started, Hattons Solicitors can help. Please use our contact form or call 01744 744400 to speak to our experienced team of family lawyers specialising in these matters.

Hattons Solicitors is based in St Helens, Merseyside. The firm has been providing efficient, affordable and high-quality legal services to members of the public and the wider business community since 2001. Professional excellence and quality of work is reinforced by its Law Society Lexcel Accreditation, and membership to the Law Society. Our friendly team of solicitors will always listen to you and your needs before working with you to deliver the approach that best meets your individual needs.

Posted on: 20/Feb/2021 Posted in: Family Law
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