The Blame Game No More -  England & Wales to remove fault-based divorce ground

09 April 2019

It has been announced today that the law governing divorce in England & Wales is to be changed to allow spouses to divorce on a ‘no fault’ ground.

Under the current law, if a couple wishes to divorce without waiting for a period of separation to expire, one of them must allege adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour by the other.   

The new reform of the law will remove the need for the end of a marriage to have been someone’s ‘fault’ and instead, a spouse will only need to state that their marriage has broken down irretrievably.  Whilst England & Wales are set to introduce legislation to effect this change as soon as parliamentary time becomes available, the law on divorce will for now remain unchanged in Northern Ireland

What are the current grounds for divorce in NI?

It may be useful to set out the current grounds upon which you can apply for divorce in Northern Ireland.  It is important firstly to highlight that you need to have been married for at least 2 years before divorcing in Northern Ireland.  This does not mean that you are compelled to continue living with your spouse for a full 2 years after marriage– you can of course live separately – however until this time frame has expired, you will be unable to petition for divorce on any of the grounds below.

When applying for divorce, you must show that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and you must satisfy one of the following grounds for divorce in order to evidence this breakdown: -

  1. Unreasonable Behaviour

This is where you must evidence that your spouse has behaved so unreasonably that you can no longer be expected to live with them.  Types of unreasonable behaviour are wide-ranging and can include physical or verbal aggression, emotional abuse, lack of communication, financial control or misconduct and addictions.

  1. Adultery  

In order to petition for divorce on the ground of adultery, you need to show the Court that your spouse has committed adultery during the course of the marriage. The person with whom your spouse had the affair can be joined and named in the divorce papers also.

  1. Two Years’ Separation with Consent

This ground is available where both you and your spouse have lived separately for more than 2 years and your spouse consents to the divorce.  You can have been living in the same property during this time but must have lived independently to one another. This can happen where, for example, you both live in the same house but have separate bedrooms and would not cook or clean or spend time with one another.

  1. Desertion for Two Years

This is proven where your spouse has effectively ‘deserted’ you. This ground is technically difficult to prove and is very rarely relied upon in divorce proceedings.

  1. Five Years Separation

This ground is available when you and your spouse have lived separate for more than 5 years. You do not require your partner’s consent on this ground.

The introduction of the ‘no fault’ ground will be welcome by many for allowing unhappy couples to formally end their marriage without either person being held responsible, therefore easing some of the stress, pain and bitterness that can often endure during separation.  Some people however would argue that the ‘no fault’ ground may damage the sanctity of marriage and that couples may not think carefully enough before entering into marriage if they feel that they can easily divorce if it doesn’t work out.

Both sides of the argument have valid points however in my experience as a lawyer in this area, no divorce is ever ‘easy’ -- feelings are hurt, emotions are high and often children are caught in the middle.  Certainly, a divorce that can be dealt with as amicably, quickly and as cost-effectively as possible for both parties should always be promoted and encouraged.  

For further advice or assistance on any aspect of divorce law and procedure, please contact Karen Connolly on kconnolly@fhanna.co.uk or by telephone on 028 9024 3901