What are the grounds of Divorce in NI

14 September 2023

Many people, particularly older generations, feel that divorce has become somewhat ‘fashionable’ these days and that it is too ‘easy’ for couples to get divorced.  Whilst some could argue that there may be a little truth in that given the statistics, it is by no means the case that any Tom Dick or Harry (or their female counterparts!) can simply get a divorce.

What do I need to show before I can get a divorce?

In Northern Ireland, to get a divorce, you firstly need to have been married at least 2 years to your spouse   This doesn’t mean that you are compelled to continue living with your spouse for a full 2 years – you can of course live separately. However, you will not be in a position to petition for divorce until you have been married for at least 2 years.  Then, either spouse may be able to petition for divorce so long as they can show that their marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down.’

The ‘grounds’ for divorce

There are five ‘grounds’ for divorce – one of which you must satisfy in order to get a divorce.

Unreasonable Behaviour

To get a divorce on this ground, you need to show the Court that your husband/wife has behaved so unreasonably that you can no longer be expected to live with them.  Types of unreasonable behaviour are wide ranging and can include, for example, physical or verbal aggression, lack of communication, financial control, coercive behaviour or misconduct and addictions.


In order to petition for divorce on the ground of adultery, you need to show the Court that your husband/wife has committed adultery during the course of the marriage.  The person with whom your partner had the affair can be joined and named in the Divorce Petition also.

Two Years Separation With Consent

This is available where both you and your partner have lived separately for more than two years and your partner consents to the divorce. You can have been living in the same property during this time but must have lived independently to one another. This can happen where, for example, you both live in the same house but have separate bedrooms and would not cook or clean or spend time with one another.

Desertion for Two Years

This occurs is where your partner has effectively ‘deserted’ you. This ground is technically difficult to prove and is very rarely relied upon in divorce proceedings.

Five Years Separation

This ground is available where you and your partner have lived separate for more than five years. You do not require your partner’s consent on this ground.

If one of the above grounds is satisfied, divorce proceedings can be issued and the Court can determine upon Hearing whether the ground has been satisfied and whether the marriage has irretrievably broken down. 

If there are finance matters to be resolved, these are dealt with separately, either by both spouses negotiating an agreement amicably via legal representatives, or if this is not possible, by one party issuing Ancillary Relief proceedings asking the Court to adjudicate on how assets should be divided.

In April 2022, no fault divorce was introduced in England and Wales. This allows couples to end their marriage or civil partnership without having to cite a ‘ground ‘ for divorce and blame each other for the breakdown of their relationship.  Whilst this legislative change has been welcomed in England & Wales, the law on divorce will for now remains unchanged in Northern Ireland

For advice and assistance in relation to any matrimonial or divorce matter, contact Karen Connolly on kconnolly@fhanna.co.uk or call 028 9024 3901