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The grounds of divorce in Northern Ireland

The grounds of divorce in Northern Ireland

Unfortunately many marriages do not lead to a happy ever after. A divorce is the official ending of the marriage and allows either spouse to remarry.

In Northern Ireland there are certain grounds that will allow a court to end the marriage and declare the parties are divorced.

If you are not able to prove one of these criteria, then the court will not be able to find that the marriage has irretrievably ended and therefore will not grant the divorce.

What are valid grounds for divorce in Northern Ireland?

The five grounds for the divorce are

  1. Unreasonable behaviour 
  2. Adultery 
  3. 2 year’s separation with consent
  4. 5 year’s separation
  5. Desertion

Two Year’s separation with consent

The most popular ground is 2 year’s separation with the consent of the other spouse. With this ground if you have been separated for two or more years from your spouse and they agree to the divorce then the court will determine that the marriage is over.

The court hearing with this ground will normally be a lot shorter than with some of the other grounds.

Five year’s separation

This ground is similar to the above ground, but you have to be separated for 5 years or more and you do not need the consent of your spouse. With this ground your spouse does not have to agree but you do unfortunately need to be separated for at least 5 years.

Unreasonable behaviour

With this ground you have to prove that the behaviour of your spouse was so unreasonable that you have no choice but to not be married to that person. If you plead unreasonable behaviour divorce and your spouse disputes that they were unreasonable, then you will have to give evidence and be cross-examined at court regarding the specific actions of your spouse that are unreasonable.

What counts as unreasonable behaviour for divorce in Northern Ireland?

  • Physical or verbal abuse: Any form of abuse, whether physical or verbal, may be considered unreasonable behaviour.
  • Adultery: In some cases, adultery is considered unreasonable behaviour if it leads to the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
  • Financial irresponsibility: Behaviours such as financial neglect or irresponsibility that significantly impact the marriage may be considered unreasonable.
  • Emotional neglect: Persistent emotional neglect or lack of emotional support can be grounds for unreasonable behaviour.
  • Addiction issues: Substance abuse or other forms of addiction that affect the marriage may be considered unreasonable behaviour.


If your spouse committed adultery then you can ask the court to end the marriage. Once again you may have to give evidence and be cross-examined at court regarding the adultery.


You can end the marriage if your spouse has deserted you for at least two years. That means they have left you without your consent for over two years.

As can be seen there are a number of options available to make an application for divorce. You will have to set out the ground/s you are relying on in your divorce petition.

If you would like to speak to an expert divorce solicitor contact one of our specialised divorce lawyers in Belfast now on 028 90 36 55 95.

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