The Grounds for Divorce in NI by H McPartland & Sons

The Grounds for Divorce in Northern Ireland

Being unwillingly faced with the end of your marriage or making the decision to end your marriage can be one of the most difficult and stressful times in a person’s life and with it comes many worries and fears about how life will change following divorce. Divorce and separation can be a complex area of the law, so you need an experienced solicitor to advise and provide one to one professional service and guide you through this stressful process. Sound legal advice is essential when you’re going through a divorce or separation so trust H McPartland & Sons to offer you helpful and practical advice in a sensitive and professional manner.

Our solicitors can offer expert legal advice on all areas of matrimonial law including:

  • Divorce advice
  • Advice on custody, access and contact with children following a divorce or separation
  • Dissolution of civil partnerships
  • Cohabitation agreements
  • Prenuptial agreements and post-nuptial agreements
  • Separation agreements

H McPartland & Sons explain the different grounds for divorce in Northern Ireland and how this process works.

There are 5 different grounds for divorce in Northern Ireland


  1. Lived Apart For 2 Years

If you and your spouse or partner have lived apart for over two years and both parties agree to the divorce you can do so without attributing blame.

  1. Lived Apart For 5 Years 

You may divorce without consent if you and your spouse or partner have lived apart for over 5 years.

  1. Unreasonable Behaviour

You can make a claim for divorce if your spouse or partner has acted in a way in which you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them. Types of unreasonable behaviour may include verbal or physical abuse, taking drugs, drunkenness or not paying for housing expenses.

  1. Adultery

Adultery can be claimed if your spouse or partner has had a sexual relationship with another person and for this reason you can no longer live with them. Usually you need to be able to prove the act of adultery by your getting your spouse/partner to admit to the relationship. If this admission is not possible you will have to discuss how you will next proceed with your solicitor. You should also be aware that if you continue to live with your partner for more than 6 months after the act of adultery you will normally not be able to use this as grounds for divorce.

  1. Desertion

Divorce can be claimed if your husband or wife has deserted you for over two years. Basically, this means that your spouse has left without giving a reason or without prior agreement.

Starting proceedings

If you don’t use a solicitor and there is consent to divorce or dissolution, you can get information from the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.

However, you should contact a solicitor if:

  • your other spouse or partner doesn’t consent to divorce or dissolution
  • they defend the case after the petition was issued

The divorce or dissolution process begins when you lodge the petition and pay the fee. You are the petitioner. Your spouse or civil partner is known as the respondent.

You need to lodge documents with the petition in the Matrimonial Office. These may include:

  • marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • an acknowledgement of service form
  • birth certificate for a child under 18
  • agreements you wish to be made a rule of court
  • previous court orders about your marriage or civil partnership
  • Lodging and serving a petition

A fee of £237 is needed to lodge a petition in court.

After the papers have been processed, the court will send you a certified copy of the petition. You can ‘serve the petition’ by posting a copy to the respondent

Case listed before court and fees

When all the necessary documents are received, the case will be listed before the court. The court will tell you and your spouse or civil partner the date of court listing. The case will be listed for the same court where the petitioner applied. However, the case will be heard in the High Court if the respondent defends the petition.

The fees (at the time of writing) for a court date are:

  • £296 in the County Court
  • £355 in the High Court

Respondent consents or defends the petition

If the respondent consents to the petition, you will be asked to take a religious oath or make a vow and then verify or confirm the information within your petition.

However, If the respondent defends the petition, you may need to give evidence and be cross-examined by the respondent’s legal representative. You need to get legal advice if this happens.

Granting a Decree Nisi or Conditional Order

This is the initial hearing where the judge will hear the case and if they are satisfied with evidence that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, they will grant a Decree Nisi (this is an Order stating that are entitled to obtain a Divorce). For a civil partnership, they will grant what is known as a conditional order.

A Decree Absolute 

At least six weeks and one day after the decree nisi or conditional order has been granted, your solicitor makes an application to make the decree absolute or the conditional order final.  This application is made to the court where the divorce or dissolution case was heard, and you are not required to attend.

The marriage or civil partnership ends formally when:

  • the decree absolute is granted
  • the conditional order is made final

The court can, at this stage, make orders about finance, maintenance and property.

Three months after the initial six weeks and a day, the respondent can apply for the decree absolute or conditional order to be made final. But this can only be done with the court’s permission.

At the time of writing, the court costs for a Decree Nisi are £575 but there will also be solicitors’ professional costs on top of this.  Most solicitors will give a quote for a divorce in advance of lodging anything with the court.   Legal Aid may be available depending on your financial circumstances. It is important that you speak with your solicitor about costs before issuing proceedings.

Granting the decree absolute or conditional order

When the decree absolute or conditional order made final is granted, you and your former spouse or partner will receive a copy. This is a very important document that you will need to keep safely. It proves you are divorced. This document will be needed to:

  • apply for a passport
  • marry or form a new civil partnership
  • apply for your pension or certain state benefits
  • apply for a student grant
  • apply for a grant of probate or Letters of Administration

H McPartland & Sons have been providing excellent divorce and separation legal advice to clients for many years. We strive to treat every case with professionalism and discretion and will ensure that you have a consistent service throughout the entire process so that your divorce or separation is handled sensitively, seamlessly and cost effectively. Contact our offices in Lurgan or Lisburn today for more advice.