By Conal McGarrity
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The ‘No Fault’ Divorce – Proposed Reform to Divorce Law in Northern Ireland

Proposed reforms to Divorce Law in England and Wales have recently been expediated by the introduction of the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill in the House of Commons. This Bill is the first legislative step toward the ‘No Fault’ divorce being introduced. Justice Secretary David Guake stated that this was designed to put an end to the ‘unnecessary mudslinging’ that exists under the current fault-based divorce system in the UK.

This will be a positive step toward making divorce proceedings more amicable and increasing the functionality of family life following the breakdown of a marriage.

These developments have shone a light on the lack of progress within the area of divorce law in Northern Ireland. The current law in this jurisdiction places emphasis on the ‘fault based’ divorce, where a spouse must prove their partner is at fault by way of adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour.

If neither party is ‘blaming’ each other then they must prove that there is grounds for divorce on the basis of ‘irretrievable breakdown’. To satisfy these criteria the couple will need to have lived apart for at least one year.

The main problem with this is that following a marriage breakdown former partner’s will be keen to expediate their divorce proceedings. To achieve this under the current legislation in Northern Ireland there must be an at fault party. This unsurprisingly leads to less than amicable splits which cause serious harm not only to the former partner’s relationship but also to their wider family life. This is particularly true where children are involved.

A 2015 report found that 27% of divorcing couples who asserted blame in their divorce petition admitted the allegations were not true at a later date. This is a damning indictment of the current law in Northern Ireland and reflects the need for urgent reform.

The introduction of a ‘no fault’ divorce in Northern Ireland has been kept under review in recent years and it is anticipated that the current developments in England and Wales will accelerate reform of the law in this jurisdiction. The ‘no fault’ divorce would reduce hostility between the separating couple and promote healthy relationships following a divorce, this would be particularly important if the separating couple have children.

Unfortunately, lawyers can only apply the law as it currently exists. Our expert family law solicitors aim to make divorce proceedings as painless as possible. It is always favourable to reach an amicable split when a marriage breaks down. However, conflict can arise in relation to childcare, finances and contact for example.

In these circumstances we will help to protect your interests. When children are involved in divorce proceedings the Court will always put the best interests of the child first and all other considerations will be secondary.

At P.A.Duffy and Company, we offer professional and compassionate family law services. Our solicitors understand that going through a divorce is extremely stressful and emotional. We aim to relieve your burden and come to a resolution that you are happy with.

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