What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?

Last updated on September 12, 2019

Featured image for the "What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce" article. It features a divorced couple reading their statement in the court.

By law, there is only one ground for divorce, and that is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. The other terms that we commonly hear as being “grounds for divorce”, such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery, are the facts used to show that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. This is a common misconception.

Before we can talk about proving irretrievable breakdown, we need to know that there are pre-conditions for getting a divorce.

Pre-Conditions for Divorce

Married for at least 3 years

In order to get a divorce, you have to be married for at least 3 years.

In special cases, a divorce can be filed before there has been 3 years of marriage. However, you will have to prove that you have suffered exceptional hardship or if your spouse has been exceptionally unreasonable and cruel. 

If you’re wondering what will be considered “exceptional hardship” or “exceptionally unreasonable and cruel” – there is no fixed legal definition. The reason is that the applicant has to use his personal circumstances to persuade the court that there is exceptional hardship as a whole. However, there are certain extreme circumstances that may justify an early divorce.

If there are no exceptional circumstances, then there has to be 3 years of marriage before divorce.

Relation to Singapore

To obtain a divorce in the Singapore justice system, you or your spouse must be domiciled (treated Singapore as your permanent abode) at the start of the divorce proceedings. Alternatively, either of you must have resided in Singapore for 3 years immediately before the commencement of divorce proceedings.

If you are a foreigner in Singapore, you may wish to refer to our article on whether foreigners can divorce in Singapore.

Proving Irretrievable Breakdown: Grounds for Divorce in Singapore

For there to be a divorce, there has to be an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. This is the sole ground of divorce. As an example, “unreasonable behaviour” is a fact that is used to prove the irretrievable breakdown.

In order to show an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, you have to prove at least one of 4 legally-defined facts. The 4 facts that can be used to obtain a divorce in Singapore are:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. Separation

In the following explanations on each of these 4 facts, we will use A and B to denote the two parties in a divorce:


If A has committed adultery, and B finds it intolerable to live with A, B can file for divorce. The main hurdle with proving adultery is in gathering the evidence, since A is unlikely to admit to the adultery. If you cannot get hold of evidence yourself, then a private investigator has to be hired.

You may want to get in touch with our partnering private investigator.

Unreasonable behaviour

For unreasonable behaviour, A has to show that B has behaved in such a way that A cannot reasonably be expected to live with B.

What constitutes unreasonable behaviour is subjective. That is to say, what are the actions that are unreasonable to you? Some examples include:

  • Violence
  • Constant late nights
  • Refusal to socialise
  • Drug addiction
  • Compulsive gambling habits
  • Deprivation of sex
  • Working too many hours

The list is not exhaustive. Unreasonable behaviour is an easier fact to use for an uncontested divorce, as B does not have to admit to the behaviour. This is in contrast to adultery which has to be proven, and this can be embarrassing. It is unlikely that there will be consent to divorce for reason of adultery. Read more about unreasonable behaviour in divorce in our other article.


Desertion is described as B having deserted A for a continuous period of at least 2 years immediately before the filing of divorce. A should show that they have been living separately, and that B has the intention to desert. Usually, this is shown by proving that B has no intention of returning.

Separation (live apart) for 3 years

For this fact, A has to prove that A and B have lived separately continuously for a period of 3 years. B also has to agree to the divorce.

A will have to show evidence of living separately. Sometimes, a deed of separation is used. For separation, the living apart must be by choice of the parties and not due to necessity. For example, if B has been posted overseas for work, that time is unlikely to be counted as part of the 3 years required.

If A and B get back together briefly during the period of living apart, as long as the period of the reconciliation does not exceed 6 months, the separation can still be considered continuous. However, the time they spent living together will not count towards the required duration of separation.

You may want to find out more about how to prove separation in our other article.

Separation (live apart) for 4 years

Supposing A and B have lived separately continuously for a period of 4 years, then the consent of B is not necessary.

What about “irreconcilable differences”?

You may have read news reports about celebrities getting a divorce due to “irreconcilable differences”. However, this is not an accepted way of proving irretrievable breakdown of marriage in Singapore.

Instead, you will have to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down based on at least one of the 4 facts mentioned above.

How We Can Help You

Divorce papers are best drafted by a lawyer. We provide a simple system for you to get in touch with divorce lawyers so that you can find out more and compare what they have to offer. Just go to our divorce lawyers page.

At the same time, should you require any guidance on the costs of engaging a divorce lawyer, please refer to our divorce fee guide.

Before getting a divorce
  1. Process for Getting Divorced in Singapore (With Diagram)
  2. How Can I Divorce Overseas?
  3. Mandatory Parenting Programme Guide for Divorcing Parents
  4. Online Divorce in Singapore: How It Works and Should You Get One?
  5. Getting a Divorce Due to “Irreconcilable Differences” in Singapore
  6. Judicial or Legal Separation in Singapore: When and How to File
  7. Should You Make a Post-Nuptial Agreement in Singapore?
  8. How to Divorce Within 3 Years of Marriage in Singapore
  9. Guide to Personal Protection Orders in Singapore
  10. Prenuptial Agreements in Singapore
  11. What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?
  12. Separation in Singapore
  13. Annulling a Singapore Marriage: Requirements and Process
  14. Practical Preparations for a Divorce
  15. 3 Finance Questions To Ask Before a Divorce
Divorce Fees
  1. Comprehensive Guide to Divorce Fees in Singapore
Getting a Divorce Lawyer
  1. The Complete Guide to Choosing a Good Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  2. First Meeting with Your Divorce Lawyer: What to Bring
  3. Don’t Just Go for the Cheapest Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  4. Find Experienced Divorce Lawyers in Singapore
  5. Child Custody Lawyers in Singapore
Proving Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
  1. How to Prove Adultery for Divorce Purposes in Singapore
  2. Getting a Divorce: How to Prove Desertion
  3. How to Prove Unreasonable Behaviour
  4. How to Prove Separation for a Singapore Divorce
Application for Divorce Part I: Dissolution of Marriage
  1. Procedure for Dissolution of Marriage
  2. Divorce Mediation in Singapore
  3. Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found
  4. Simplified Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce in Singapore
Application for Divorce Part 2: Ancillary Matters (Maintenance, Assets, Custody)
  1. Procedure for Ancillary Matters
  2. What Happens to Gifts Between Spouses During a Divorce?
  3. What Happens to Property and Assets Located Overseas Upon a Divorce in Singapore?
  4. Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore
  5. Singapore Divorcee's Guide to Relocating Your Child Overseas
  6. Maintenance of Spouse in a Singapore Divorce
  7. Guide to Child Custody, Care and Control, and Access in Singapore
  8. How the Court Divides Matrimonial Assets in a Singapore Divorce
  1. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after Divorce?
  2. Variation of Maintenance Orders in Singapore
  3. Division of CPF Assets (Monies, House, Investments) after a Divorce
  4. Divorce Certs in Singapore: How to Get a Copy and Other FAQs
  5. Transfer of Matrimonial Home to Ex-Spouse After Divorce
  6. How to Appeal Your Divorce Case in Singapore
  7. Can Divorcees Buy or Rent HDB Flats, and How?
  8. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Denies You Access to Your Child
  9. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Provide Maintenance
Expatriate Divorce
  1. Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
  2. Expat or Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
  3. Should British Expats Divorce in Singapore or England?
  4. Divorce for British Expats: How the English Courts Deal with Financial Matters
  5. Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
  6. Hague Convention: Overseas Child Abduction in Singapore Divorce
  7. Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction
Muslim or Syariah Divorce
  1. Muslim Divorce in Singapore
  2. Applying for Nafkah Idaah and Mutaah in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore
  3. Talak in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore (and Its Effects)
Other divorce matters
  1. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after an Annulment?
  2. Case Study - Love conquers All: The Divorce That Didn’t Happen