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No Fault Divorce: Northern Ireland

The ‘No Fault’ Divorce came into place in England & Wales in April of this year, with the change in the law meaning that a court will be able to grant a conditional order after 20 weeks and a final order of divorce six weeks thereafter. However, Divorce legislation in Northern Ireland remains unchanged.

Wilson Nesbitt Divorce expert Senior Associate Ciara Barlow explains what a ‘No Fault’ Divorce means and its benefits. She outlines the potential impact of retaining the ‘blame game’ within Divorce proceedings in NI, and reflects how the ‘No Fault’ Divorce could eventually be introduced in Northern Ireland in the near future, to help protect the interests of families.

What is a No Fault Divorce?

A no fault, or no blame divorce is a much more straightforward and amicable approach to separation. As per the no fault divorce process, couples will be able to file for divorce or civil partner dissolution without having to place the blame on their former partner to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

The court can grant a conditional order after 20 weeks and a final order of divorce six weeks thereafter. The purpose of the 20-week wait is to allow the parties time to reflect and see if they are settled in their wish to proceed with a divorce and also to give them the opportunity to try to agree other arrangements between them about their children and finances.

This new law also provides couples with the option of jointly applying for the divorce and making a joint statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

What are the benefits of a No Fault Divorce?

A no-fault divorce achieves the following:

  • It allows a divorce to proceed on a less contentious basis.
  • It avoids parties being trapped in a marriage.
  • It avoids parties having to engage in contested divorce proceedings where the Court has to determine who is responsible for the end of the marriage. Such Court cases are costly both financially and in terms of the increased acrimony which is inevitably caused.
  • It prevents one spouse from vindictively contesting a divorce forcing their spouse to remain in an unhappy marriage.
  • It reduces the potential for domestic abusers to challenge a divorce thereby using the Court system to further harm their victims.

How does No Fault Divorce work?

Essentially no-fault divorce removes the requirement to provide evidence of ‘conduct’ or ‘separation’. It replaces this with a simple requirement to give a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership.

Does Northern Ireland have No Fault Divorce?

While the law in England and Wales may have changed, we in Northern Ireland continue to have the same fault-based divorce. This means that for someone to get a divorce in Northern Ireland, they have to prove that their marriage is broken by reason of one of the following grounds: 

  1. Unreasonable behaviour
  2. Adultery
  3. Two years separation with the consent of the other spouse
  4. Desertion for two years
  5. Five years separation

How does adultery affect divorce in Northern Ireland?

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. 

How do you legally separate in Northern Ireland?

 A Judicial Separation is an alternative to divorce. To get a judicial separation you need to file a Petition with the Court the court. A judicial separation allows you to separate, without divorcing or ending a civil partnership. You may want a judicial separation if: you have religious or moral reasons against divorce or if there is financial consequences of remaining a spouse. The Court has the same ancillary relief powers as on divorce to settle the matrimonial finances. 

How long does a divorce take in Northern Ireland?

At least six weeks and one day after the decree nisi or conditional order is granted, the petitioner can apply to make the decree absolute or the conditional order final. They need to apply to the court where the divorce or dissolution case was heard

A conditional order is a document that says the court does not see any reason why you cannot end the civil partnership. If your partner does not agree to end the civil partnership, you can still apply for a conditional order.

What counts as unreasonable behaviour for divorce?

“Unreasonable behaviour” is the term used to describe the fact that a person has behaved in such a way that their partner/spouse cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.

Will ‘No Fault’ Divorce eventually come into place in Northern Ireland?

The introduction of a ‘no fault’ divorce in Northern Ireland has been kept under review 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 certainly reduce hostility between the separating couple and promote healthy relationships following a divorce, this would be particularly important if the separating couple have children.

Get in Touch

If you require legal advice on separation or divorce from Ciara Barlow and our team of expert Family Law solicitors, contact us on 0800 840 1363 or by making an email enquiry here.

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