BLB’s head of Family Law, Sarah Jackson, explains the grounds for divorce in England and Wales.
To discuss any aspect of Divorce and Family Law, our Family Law Team is available on 01225 462871. Alternatively, you can contact them by email.
From my many meetings with clients over the years, I have noticed that it appears to be a popular misconception that a legal justification for divorce is ‘irreconcilable differences’ and that a ‘quick divorce’ can be obtained on this basis.
Clients also regularly ask about ‘no intimacy’ grounds for divorce.
Irretrievable breakdown of marriage
In fact, there is only one ground for divorce in England and Wales, which is ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’. This must be evidenced by one of the following five facts currently (although the law is set to change with the implementation in due course of The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020).
- Unreasonable behaviour;
- Desertion (for a continuous period of at least two years);
- Two years’ separation with the consent of the other spouse;
- Five years’ separation (no consent required).
Unreasonable behaviour divorce
Therefore, until you have been separated for at least two years, if you and your spouse want to obtain a sooner divorce, allegations of fault – unreasonable behaviour or adultery – must be made by one spouse against the other. This means that couples often feel pushed into coming up with something negative to say about the other when invariably the marriage has broken down due to behaviour that is far from perfect by them both. That is why unreasonable behaviour divorce is the one most commonly relied upon.
This requirement to apportion blame flies in the face of the approach of BLB’s Family Law Team, and all other family solicitors who belong to the family law group Resolution, to assist couples to resolve matters as constructively and amicably as possible, minimising the impact on any children. As a result, there has been a decades-long campaign by family lawyers for the introduction of no-fault divorce which successfully resulted in Parliament passing The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act in June 2020.
However, until the Act is implemented, it remains the most cost-effective and practical route for most separating couples who have been separated for fewer than two years, to proceed with a fault-based divorce, keeping any allegations of unreasonable behaviour as mild as possible.
There is a balance to be struck, though, as the court will reject a divorce petition if the unreasonable behaviour examples are not sufficient for it to conclude that the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her; this is both a subjective and an objective test.
As regards obtaining a ‘quick divorce’, I have noticed when celebrities get divorced that the press regularly misreports the awarding of a quick or ‘quickie divorce’ due to the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This leads people to believe that the process can be expedited in some way. In fact, all divorces depend upon the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and ‘quickie divorce’ here simply means that the divorce wasn’t defended, which is the case with the vast majority of divorces in this country.