Although we automatically think of divorce as the only way to end a marriage, there are other options available if you do not want to continue sharing your life with your spouse and divorce goes against your cultural, religious or personal beliefs.

Unlike Paul Simon, I cannot provide 50 ways to leave your lover (my imagination does not stretch that far), but I can tell you about alternative ways to end your marriage so you can move on with your life without a divorce.

Reasons to Seek Alternatives to Divorce

There are a number of different reasons people choose not to obtain a divorce and instead choose an option such as annulment or judicial separation. The main drivers for such a decision include:


Some religions expressly prohibit divorce.

For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not permit divorce and will refuse to remarry a divorced person unless they have had their marriage annulled.

The Hindu religion does not approve of divorce, but will permit it on certain grounds.

Islam does not encourage divorce; however, it does make provisions for dissolving a marriage by Talaaq (where the divorce is initiated by the husband) or Khul’a, (a divorce initiated by the wife).


A person’s cultural heritage can greatly influence their attitude to divorce.

Many cultures around the world frown upon divorce and this leads to a lower divorce rate in certain countries.

For example, India has a strong social stigma tied to divorce. In the event of a divorce, women face social ostracism and fierce economic hardship. As a result, the divorce rate sits at approximately 1%, (although this percentage is on the rise). This low rate can be linked to various drivers including this social stigma, religion (Hinduism being the dominant religion) and the general low status of women in the country. In contrast, secular Belgium has the highest divorce rate in the world, at a staggering rate of 71%. The drivers that subdue India’s divorce rate are not key drivers in this country.

Personal Reasons

Some people may not want to obtain a formal divorce for personal reasons. This could include factors such as not wanting to upset children from the marriage to simply not wanting to remarry again (“once bitten, twice shy”).

Whatever your reasons for not pursuing a divorce, it will be comforting to know that there are alternatives available to you which will allow you to end your marriage on your terms.

Judicial Separation

Judicial separation is similar to divorce. The Court can make orders to divide up matrimonial property and assets and organise arrangements for children. The difference between judicial separation and divorce is that with a judicial separation, although the matrimonial assets and arrangements are split, you and your spouse remain legally married to one another and cannot remarry.

In order to obtain a judicial separation, you or your estranged spouse need to present a ‘Judicial Separation Petition’ to the Court. A divorce petition can be used for this purpose, as long as it is amended by deleting the references to the marriage having “broken down” and the intention to dissolve the marriage.

The grounds for judicial separation are the same as those for a divorce, namely:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Two years’ separation with consent
  • Five years’ separation (consent is not required)

However, unlike divorce, you do not need to show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Rather than end the marriage, a decree of judicial separation relieves the petitioner of the obligation of having to live with their estranged spouse.

(The above may sound somewhat technical, but rest assured, we will guide you all the way if this is your preferred route.)


As we have written previously, annulment is more common than many people think. You may not have been aware of this, but Kim Kardashian, Renee Zellweger, Dennis Rodman, Pamela Anderson, and Britney Spears have all had marriages annulled. They didn’t actually divorce.

In simple terms, an annulment is a declaration by the Court that a marriage was never in existence and both couples can revert back to the status of never being married. It is therefore a perfect solution for someone who wants the freedom to remarry again, but for religious, cultural or personal reasons, wants to avoid pursuing a divorce.

You can be granted an annulment on the grounds that the marriage was:

  • Void – this means a legal marriage never existed in the first place. For example, you could have your marriage declared void if you find out that you and your spouse are closely related or of the same sex (yes, it this does happen, you just have to run a search through Google).
  • Voidable – a marriage can be voidable for reasons such as non-consummation, the marriage was not consented to by both parties, or the wife was pregnant by another man at the time the marriage took place.

Another advantage of seeking an annulment, is unlike a divorce, you do not need to be married a year before formally applying to end your marriage (you can have your marriage annulled within days of the happy unhappy event taking place). Financial orders and arrangements for children can also be made during annulment proceedings.

Islamic Divorce or divorce not in the UK

One of the first questions I am often asked when clients enquire about ending a marriage according to Shari’ah law is “…is a marriage ended by bare Talaaq or Khul’a recognised by UK law?” The answer in summary is yes, but only if certain criteria are met such as, the Talaaq or Khul’a took place in a country governed by Shari’ah law and if both parties resided in that particular country at the time.

Furthermore, in order for a divorce from another jurisdiction to be recognised in the UK, both parties must have resided outside the UK (i.e. in that country) in the 12 months prior to the divorce being granted.

An Islamic divorce will not be recognised under UK law if the process took place within the UK, or one or more parties were habitually resident in the UK within the 12 months leading up to the Talaaq or Khul’a.

The rules are similar even if the divorce is not a divorce pursuant to Shari’ah law (or by way of court proceedings) but instead in any other jurisdiction around the world.

Breaking up is Still Hard to Do

Even though the arrangements to end a marriage outlined above do not carry the stigma of a formal divorce, those concerned are equally as devastated that their marriage has come to an end. When engaging a family solicitor to end your marriage, either by divorce or one of the alternatives outlined above, it is important to find someone you connect with and who has the ability to handle your case with sensitivity and understanding.

The family lawyers at Saracens Solicitors have decades of combined experience in all aspects of family law. If you need to talk to a professional about ending your marriage, then call us in complete confidence on 020 3588 3500 to make an appointment.

If you have any comments to make on this article, then please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section below.

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