How far must you go to prove your marriage is over?

What is a good enough reason for getting divorced

For a divorce to be granted by the courts there needs to be evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down – but what’s a good reason for getting divorced and just how far do you have to go in order to prove your marriage is over?

What are the grounds for divorce?

In reality, the reasons you give for divorce don’t need to be too personal or shocking.

Despite popular belief, irreconcilable differences is not a legally accepted basis for ending a marriage. The only ground for divorce permitted by English courts is the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. This breakdown must be proved by establishing one of five causes, the most common of which is unreasonable behaviour.

How unreasonable does your spouse’s behaviour need to be?

Most divorces are granted due to unreasonable behaviour. This relies on the person seeking a divorce stating reasons why they can no longer reasonably be expected to remain married to their partner, although the evidence does not need to be extreme. Something as simple as having a partner who frequently spends long hours at the office or pursues his or her own social interests can be enough to satisfy the courts.

Is it better to give more than one reason for getting divorced?

It’s a common myth that divorce applications need to be hard-hitting in their reasons when the opposite is actually true. In fact, the less hostile the claim, the more likely it is that the petition will go uncontested and the divorce will run smoothly. So, even though it can be tempting to list a whole catalogue of complaints, this isn’t usually necessary.   However, the case of Mr. and Mrs. Owens has recently hit the headlines as the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. and Mrs. Owens were to remain married as Mrs. Owens did not have strong enough grounds.  To view our article on Mr. and Mrs. Owens click here.  It is hoped that following on from this that clear guidance will be provided because having to provide a lot of detail about unreasonable behaviour only inflames the already difficult situation between a divorcing husband and wife and, unless it is anticipated that the divorce will be contested, our advice is still to make the details of behaviour as uncontentious as possible.

Will I be awarded a bigger share of the assets if I portray my spouse in a bad light?

Many people also wrongly believe that making a strong case will secure them a better financial settlement. The grounds for divorce are unlikely to be taken into consideration during discussions concerning assets or arrangements for children. At that stage in the proceedings completely separate factors will come into play.

What other causes can I cite?

Another fairly common cause for irretrievable breakdown is adultery but anyone choosing this option must be prepared for the fact that this can be difficult to prove. The final three causes for irretrievable breakdown relate to the length of time a couple have already been apart. If husband and wife have been living apart for two years and agree to divorce they can proceed on the basis that they have already had two years’ separation. After five years’ separation one party can proceed to divorce without the other spouse’s consent. Rarely, desertion is given as the cause in cases where one partner has been deserted by their spouse for at least two years continuously.

Can I have a “no fault” divorce?

Under the law as it stands you can if you have been separated for 2 years and your spouse agrees or if there is no agreement, after you have been separated for 5 years.  There are moves to try to get a change in the law so that consenting couples can divorce without making allegations of blame and without waiting until they have been separated for 2 years.  Even if this does becomes law it may not be for some time.

Andrew Meehan is an experienced family lawyer specialising in complex divorces involving significant or hidden assets, as well as cases involving children.

He is recommended for family law by both Chambers 2019 (York, Hull and surrounding regions) and the Legal 500 2018 (Leeds/West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire region).

Everyone’s circumstances are different and this article is provided by way of general information only and must not be replied upon.  If you require legal advice on a family law issue, please feel free to contact us by emailing