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Ways to end your marriage

This advice applies to Wales

If you know you’re ready to end your marriage permanently, you should get a divorce.

You can get a legal separation if you don’t want to get a divorce - for example, if you don’t agree with divorce for religious or cultural reasons

If your marriage isn’t legally valid, you can get it annulled - for example, if you were forced into it or one of you was under 16.

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

Don’t try to agree anything about your separation without speaking to someone first. 

You can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

Men's Advice Line is a charity that helps men suffering domestic abuse. You can call their helpline on 0808 801 0327 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

 If you’re unsure about what to do next, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Before you end your marriage, you'll also need to decide:

If you've been married less than a year

You can’t get a divorce yet. 

You can get a legal separation if you’ve been married less than a year, but it’s usually better to wait until you can get a divorce. While you’re waiting to start getting divorced, you and your partner can get a separation agreement. This lets you agree the details of how you want to separate before you get divorced.

Getting a divorce

It costs £550 to start getting divorced. You pay this when you send your divorce form ('petition').

You’ll need to show your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’. This means there’s no way you can work through your problems.

You do this by choosing one of 5 reasons - also known as ‘facts’ or ‘grounds for divorce’.

You and your partner should try to agree on one of these facts:

  • one of you has cheated - also known as committing adultery

  • one of you has behaved unreasonably

  • your partner has left you and you’ve lived apart for at least 2 years in total - this is known as ‘desertion’

  • you’ve lived apart for at least 2 years and you both agree to the divorce

  • you’ve lived apart for at least 5 years - it doesn’t matter if your partner doesn’t agree to the divorce

If you've been separated for less than 2 years, you can only use unreasonable behaviour or adultery as your reason for getting divorced.

You can’t usually use the reasons for divorce against your partner when it comes to sorting out things like money or contact with your children. This is because the court won’t usually take these reasons into account when making decisions.

If your reason is adultery

Adultery has to be sexual and with a member of the opposite sex, even if you’re in a same-sex marriage.

It doesn’t matter how long ago the adultery happened or whether it’s still happening. You’ll have to prove it happened. This can be very hard to prove unless your ex-partner admits to the adultery. If they won’t admit to it, it might be easier to prove that your ex-partner is having an inappropriate relationship with someone of the opposite sex. This would be ‘unreasonable behaviour’.  

You’ll also have to prove you didn’t live together for more than 6 months after finding out.

If you want to get divorced based on adultery, it's best to get legal advice. 

For example, a solicitor can advise you on whether to name the person your ex-partner had an affair with. If you do name them, they'll have to get the forms and respond to them. So your divorce might take longer and cost more.

Find out the next steps in getting divorced if you decide you want to go ahead. 

If your reason is unreasonable behaviour 

Unreasonable behaviour can be anything your partner has done that makes you feel it’s impossible to live with them any more.

It can include things like domestic abuse or committing a criminal offence.

It can also include things that might seem less serious, but that still make you feel you can’t stay with your partner - for example, if:

  • your partner doesn’t include you in their social life

  • you think your partner has become too close to someone else

  • your partner works long hours and you feel lonely

  • your partner doesn’t help with things like housework and cooking

You’ll need to give a reason you feel they’re being unreasonable that is specific and based on something they’ve done or are doing. If you can, it’s a good idea to agree this reason with your partner before you put it in the divorce petition.

Find out the next steps in getting divorced if you decide you want to go ahead.

If your reason is desertion

You can use desertion as a reason if your partner left you and you haven’t been in a relationship with them for at least 2 years.

Desertion can be difficult to prove - it might be easier to use unreasonable behaviour or say you’ve lived apart for 2 years.

After your partner leaves, you can get back together again for up to 6 months in total - but this time won’t count towards the 2 years you need to prove desertion.

You’ll also need to prove your partner decided to leave you and that you didn’t want the relationship to end.  

Find out the next steps in getting divorced if you decide you want to go ahead.

If you’ve lived apart for at least 2 years and both agree to divorce 

If you and your partner agree you’ve lived totally separate lives for at least 2 years, you can use this as your reason for getting divorced.

You don’t need to have lived in 2 different homes, but it can be more difficult to prove you’ve lived separate lives if one of you hasn’t moved out.

If you still live together you shouldn’t share anything - for example, a bedroom, bank accounts or meals.

While you and your partner are separated, you can get back together again for up to 6 months in total. This time won’t count towards the 2 years you need to have been apart.

Find out the next steps in getting divorced if you decide you want to go ahead.

If you’ve lived apart for at least 5 years and your partner doesn’t agree to the divorce

You won’t need your ex-partner’s agreement to get a divorce if you’ve been separated and living totally separate lives for at least 5 years. 

You don’t need to have lived in 2 different homes, but it can be more difficult to prove you’ve lived separate lives if one of you hasn’t moved out.

If you still live together you shouldn’t share anything - for example, a bedroom, bank accounts or meals.

While you and your partner are separated, you can get back together again for up to 6 months in total. This time won’t count towards the 5 years you need to have been apart.

Find out the next steps in getting divorced if you decide you want to go ahead.

A legal separation (also known as a ‘judicial separation’) is a way of separating without getting divorced. It lets you and your partner make formal decisions about things like your finances and living arrangements, but you’ll still be married.

You might get a legal separation if you can’t or don’t want to divorce - for example:

  • you don’t want a divorce for religious or cultural reasons

  • you’ve been married less than a year

You’ll need to fill in form D8 to apply for legal separation. Find the form and read more about legal separation on GOV.UK.  

Getting a legal separation costs £365 - once you’ve paid the fee there are no further costs.

A legal separation doesn’t stop you from getting divorced at a later date - you’ll have to pay another fee to get divorced, which is £550.

Annulling your marriage

An annulment ends a marriage that isn’t legal in the UK - for example, if:

  • one of you was already married or in a civil partnership

  • you didn’t properly agree to the marriage - for example, you were drunk or forced into it

  • you haven’t had sex with your partner since you got married - this doesn’t apply to same-sex couples

Find out when you can annul a marriage and how to do it on GOV.UK. Annulling your marriage costs £550 and takes a few months to complete.

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