Breaking up with a partner or spouse can be difficult. Hard decisions often have to be made, particularly where children are involved. It is important to take professional advice if you are considering getting a divorce or separation and talking the issues through with a solicitor can help to ease the stress.


Getting a divorce requires a court order (called a decree). In order to grant a decree of divorce, the court requires evidence that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Irretrievable breakdown is established in any one of four ways:

  1. Non-cohabitation for a period of one year with the consent of the other party
  2. Non-cohabitation for a period of two years
  3. Adultery
  4. Unreasonable behaviour
Civil partnership

The termination of a civil partnership (called a dissolution) follows a similar process to divorce and the only ground for dissolving a civil partnership is irretrievable breakdown. The reasons for the breakdown are the same as for divorce but exclude adultery.

Other considerations

While divorce and the dissolution of a civil partnership require a court order, there are a number of other options available to you if your relationship has come to an end and separation has become a consideration.


If you are neither married nor in a civil partnership but live together, you may also have certain rights should your relationship come to an end. Property acquired while living together is likely to belong to you equally, but it may be necessary to use the court process if you cannot reach agreement on matters. Family lawyers have the experience and knowledge to help you through this process.

Collaborative law

This is a relatively new approach to managing the end of your relationship and is of particular value if you don't want to hand over certain decisions about your future - like child care and finances - to the court. Collaborative law requires both parties to instruct independent lawyers to help them settle matters and to commit to negotiating a settlement. It also aims to foster a positive relationship between parties going forward, which is particularly helpful if you are trying to achieve agreement on co-parenting and an amicable relationship for the future.


Mediation is a process which can be used to negotiate a settlement when a relationship has ended. Both parties have to be prepared to agree to mediate and you cannot be forced to enter into the process. Successful mediations are constructive and open and allow parties to find common ground and a productive solution. It is sensible to take legal advice to ensure you understand your rights before mediating but many lawyers are trained in mediation and can guide you through the process.

You can search for solicitors using our find a solicitor tool. Solicitors who deal with divorce can be found by searching in the Family and Relationships section under areas of law.

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