Heather Snowdon, head of family at Jacksons Law Firm, with important updates to divorce law…

We often take for granted the laws and rules that apply to our lives.

However, when we stop to consider that divorce law wasn’t formalised by the English Courts until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 allowed couples to divorce if they could prove adultery by the other party.

It was enough for the husband to just prove adultery. The wife had to prove an additional exacerbating factor, e.g. rape or incest, to successfully petition, so equal rights was some way off.

Divorce cases were heard in open Court, where the public could attend, at the High Court in London, causing much scandal, newspaper reporting and destruction of reputations.

It wasn’t until 66 years (and one world war later), the enactment of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1923 allowed women finally to divorce by proving adultery, removing the need for an exacerbating factor.

Further social change clearly identified the need for other ways to divorce.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1937 brought in three new matrimonial “offences” for divorce: Cruelty, desertion and incurable insanity. It also introduced a bar to divorce in the first three years of marriage.

And matters remained the same, through World War Two and its aftermath, through massive social upheaval, economic change and sexual revolution.

Finally, the Divorce Reform Act 1969 brought in the divorce process as we now recognise it, later consolidated into the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

There is one ground for divorce, the irretrievable breakdown of marriage, supported by one of five facts:

• Adultery
• Unreasonable behaviour
• 2 years separation with consent
• Desertion (2 years or more)
• 5 years separation.

In 1984, the bar on petitioning for a divorce was reduced from no petition in the first three years of marriage to no petition in the first year.

For at least three decades, family lawyers have recognised that the requirement to base the divorce on adultery or unreasonable behaviour was polarising separating couples and could often turn an amicable separation into a bitter and vitriolic divorce.

Many organisations have campaigned long and hard for a no-fault divorce option to be introduced.

On 25th June this year, 163 years after her Great Great Grandmother Victoria gave Royal assent to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, our 94-year-old Queen gave Royal assent to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.

This Act will finally end the need for either party to base divorce on fault and allows the couple to petition jointly for divorce if they so wish.

A note of caution, however, as it is not yet clear when this Act will commence. It is hoped to be Autumn 2021, but that is not guaranteed.

This certainly has not been a sudden change. Not everyone supports this change to the law. Some consider it will make divorce too easy and allow the unscrupulous to take advantage of the unsuspecting.

There are many families who have suffered whilst caught in the adversarial process of divorce at such a highly sensitive time and the impact can be far reaching and very damaging.

Hopefully this will be a welcome and long overdue change to an outdated process.

Together with the innovation of online divorce, the aim is to allow the divorce process to be kinder and less damaging to those impacted.

At Jacksons Law Firm, we can advise you on all aspects of divorce and financial and separation matters, including online divorce proceedings.

Heather Snowdon
Head of family, Jacksons Law Firm



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