What Constitutes As Adultery in the UK?

What Constitutes As Adultery in the UK
Legally reviewed by: Shakeela Bi In: Family

It is generally assumed that everyone understands what adultery, but you may be surprised to find that the common definition doesn’t quite match up to the legal definition. There is also commonly misinformation in relation to what constitutes as adultery in the uk and what you are entitled to in a divorce if your partner has committed adultery. It is important to know exactly where you stand when you are going through a divorce.

What is the legal definition of adultery in the UK?

In UK law, and for the purposes of getting a divorce in the UK, adultery specifically refers to situations in which:

  • A married woman has had sexual intercourse with a man other than her husband
  • A married man has had sexual intercourse with a woman other than his wife

Notably, this legal definition does not take into account same-sex marriages. The present law was established by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, when sexual relations between two men had only recently been legalised and there was no notion of civil partnerships. Currently, an extra-marital relationship with a member of the same sex does not legally qualify as adultery. It is likely that the aggrieved party would seek a divorce on another ground for divorce – most likely unreasonable behaviour.

Using adultery as grounds for divorce

If you can prove adultery, then it can be used as a valid ground for divorce. There are time limits that you should be aware of, such as having to file the divorce petition with the court within six months of becoming aware of the adultery. If you do not do this, then it is seen in UK law that you have condoned the adultery. You must no longer live together over a 6-month period.

If you are considering using adultery as the reason for your divorce, the courts have also directed in Practice Direction 7A of the Family Proceedings Rules 2010 that in all but exceptional cases, the co-respondent should not be named, and the divorce should instead proceed on the basis of an unnamed person.

It is important to note that, even if it is your partner who has committed adultery, it is not the case that you will be favoured in divorce proceedings. You will not be able to be given more legal rights over your children, and you will also not be favoured in financial proceedings. The assets that are gathered in a marriage are instead divided based on:

  • The welfare of any children under the age of 18
  • The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
  • The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
  • The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage;


  • The age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage.

Get in touch

If your partner has committed adultery and you are now looking to get a divorce, then Cartwright King can help you throughout your divorce proceedings. Our specialist divorce solicitors have a great deal of experience and will be able to assist you every step of the way.

Read more on our Divorce Solicitors page.

Get in touch today for expert help and advice.

Legal Disclaimer.

All advice is correct at time of publication.