According to recent divorce statistics, 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce. There were 101,077 divorces in 2015 (the most recent year for which official statistics are currently available).
Under the current law in England and Wales, unless people can prove their marriage has broken down due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without a spouse’s consent is to live apart for five years.
Grounds for divorce in England and Wales:
When you apply for a divorce you must prove your marriage has broken down and give one of the following five reasons:
Unreasonable behaviour
You have lived apart for more than two years and both agree to the divorce
You have lived apart for at least five years, even if your husband or wife disagrees
In Scotland, a simplified divorce procedure is available (to couples without children of the marriage under 16) where people can prove their marriage is broken down with one year’s separation – with consent of both partners – or two years separation without consent.
Check you can get a divorce
You can get a divorce in England or Wales if you’ve been married at least a year and your relationship has permanently broken down.You must have a marriage that’s legally recognised in the UK – this includes same-sex marriage. You must usually also have a permanent home in England or Wales.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.Before you applyYou and your husband or wife need to work out:
You also need to divide your money and property. There’s a deadline if you want to make this legally binding.You can usually avoid going to court hearings if you agree about children, money and property and the reasons for ending your marriage.
When you can annul a marriage
Annulment is a way of ending a marriage, like divorce.
Unlike divorce, you can get a marriage annulled at any time after the wedding (in a divorce, you have to wait at least a year). However, if you apply years after the wedding, you might be asked to explain the delay.
You may want an annulment if you have religious reasons for not wanting a divorce. However, you need to show that the marriage was either not valid in the first place, or is defective for one of the reasons given below.
You or your spouse must have either:
  • lived in England or Wales for at least a year
  • had a permanent home in England or Wales for at least 6 months
1. Your marriage is not legally valid – ‘void’ marriages
You can annul a marriage if it was not legally valid in the first place, for example:
  • you are closely related
  • one or both of you were under 16
  • one of you was already married or in a civil partnership
If a marriage was not legally valid, the law says that it never existed.
However, you may need legal paperwork to prove this – for example if you want to get married again.
2. Your marriage is defective – ‘voidable’ marriages
You can annul a marriage for a number of reasons, such as:
  • it was not consummated – you have not had sex with the person you married since the wedding (does not apply for same sex couples)
  • you did not properly consent to the marriage – for example you were drunk or forced into it
  • the other person had a sexually transmitted disease when you got married
  • the woman was pregnant by another man when you got married
Marriages annulled for these reasons are known as ‘voidable’ marriages.


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