45 years of the Divorce Reform Act 1969

It is now 45 years since the Divorce Reform Act came into effect making divorce more accessible to everyone.

17 February 2016

Hands of wife, husband signing decree of divorce, dissolution, canceling marriage, legal separation documents, filing divorce papers or premarital agreement prepared by lawyer. Wedding ring.

Prior to the 1969 Divorce Reform Act divorce was, for the most part, only accessible for rich men. You used to only be able to have a divorce granted by an Act of Parliament – something which cost far more than the average person could afford. Women could petition for divorce based on the grounds of adultery, but they had to be able to prove this. The process was long and complex.

When the 1969 Divorce Reform Act came into effect it changed the grounds for divorce. No longer did you have to prove that the breakdown of the relationship was either the husband or wife’s ‘fault’ due to adultery, drunkenness, insanity or desertion. A marriage could now end in divorce so long as it was proved to have “irretrievably broken down”.

Irretrievable breakdown is, to this day, the only reason you can get a divorce in the UK. The principle was originally backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. After 1969, the grounds for divorce were expanded.

You could use the basis of separation as your evidence that your marriage has broken down beyond repair. By proving that you have been separated from your spouse for five years, or only two years if you both agree to end the marriage you can now get a divorce.

The Divorce Reform Act’s influence did not stop there. It changed the way the general public viewed divorce. The law change transformed attitudes because it removed the concept of ‘matrimonial offences’. Divorce was no longer necessarily about who was guilty and who was innocent. So, gradually people’s expectations of marriage and feelings towards divorce shifted.

The Divorce Reform Act 1969 made divorce, and arguably marriage, into what it is today. Unhappy couples are able to live separate independent happy lives free of scandal and shame. Divorce is no longer a rarity with around half of all marriages ending in divorce.

If your relationship has come to an end, Slater and Gordon Lawyers can advise you on the many ways to address divorce without unnecessary confrontation. We offer mediation services to help make the separation as easy as can be for you and your family.

Call our expert family law solicitors on freephone 0330 041 5869 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help.

All information was correct at time of publication.

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