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How to End a Marriage Legally

This page contains information grounds for divorce, as well as the settlement process that follows a divorce. For guidance on filing for a divorce, see our how to get a divorce page.

To get a divorce you need to have been married for at least a year and prove that your relationship has broken down irretrievably. This must be based on one of the following five facts:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • 2 years of separation
  • 5 years of separation


You can use this as grounds for divorce if your spouse has had sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite gender and it has had the effect of making you feel like you can no longer live with them.

This ground can only be used if you found out about the most recent act of adultery within the last six months.

Unreasonable behavior

Your divorce could be based upon this fact if the behaviour of your spouse leaves you feeling that you are no longer able to live with them. Examples of unreasonable behaviour can include physical abuse, drunkenness or drug-taking, but can also include more minor things like failing to pay for housekeeping.


This fact can be used as the basis for a divorce if your spouse has left you without your agreement and without good reason, leaving you deserted for at least two years out of the last two and a half years.

2 years of separation

If you have lived apart from your spouse for two years or more, this can be used as grounds for divorce, as long as your spouse agrees to the divorce in writing.

5 years of separation

If you have lived apart from your spouse for five years or more, this can be used as grounds for divorce. You do not need your spouse’s agreement to the divorce in this situation.

Divorce settlements

After a couple has divorced, a decision needs to be made about how their assets are to be divided. This can either be agreed by the divorcees themselves or ordered by the court.

Consent orders

If you have come to an arrangement with your ex-partner over the division of your assets and you wish to make it legally binding, you will need to get what is called a consent order.

First of all, you will need to get the order drafted by a solicitor. After this, it should be sent to the court along with a notice of an application for a financial order and a statement of information form filled in by each of you. The order will become legally binding if the judge believes it is fair and reasonable. The consent order will cost you £45.

Financial orders

If you and your ex-partner cannot agree on the division of your assets between yourselves, then you can ask the court for a financial order. You can apply by filling out a financial order application form and sending two copies to the court which is handling your case. This application costs £255.

You must be able to show that you have considered mediation, except in certain circumstances, e.g. when there has been domestic abuse.

The issuing of a financial order is separate from the divorce proceedings. It can take between six and 12 months, or possibly longer in complicated cases.

You will be given an appointment with a judge within 12 to 16 weeks of your application. Once you have the date of your appointment you need to complete a Form E, in which you must give details of your situation. Both parties need to fill in this form and present a copy to the court and the other party. You will need to attach documentation to support the information given in the form, such as payslips and bank and credit card statements.

The first appointment gives both parties the opportunity to meet the judge with a legal adviser to discuss the case.

In deciding how your assets should be divided, the judge will take a number of factors into account. This will include the length of time you have been married, as well as your respective ages, earning potential and role in the marriage (such as breadwinner or carer).

The judge will put the needs of any children from the marriage first, although they will generally not make any decisions regarding child maintenance. See our section on child maintenance for more on this.

A financial order from the court can make judgments on:

  • periodic maintenance payments from one party to the other, or lump sum payments
  • transfer of property from one party to the other
  • pensions

If all parties agree on a settlement after the first appointment, a financial order can be granted at this stage. If not, then a further meeting between the parties to the divorce, their legal advisers and the judge is scheduled, known as a financial dispute resolution hearing.

The judge will use this meeting as an opportunity to look at any offers that have been made by either party and to encourage a settlement to be reached. The judge will encourage you to negotiate in order to reach a compromise so that an order can be finalised. If no such compromise can be reached, then the judge will arrange a final hearing.

The final hearing will be dealt with by a different judge to the one who you saw at the first appointment and the financial dispute resolution hearing. After considering evidence from both parties, the judge will make an order to which both are bound.