It’s now becoming an annual event: the first day back at work after the New Year is ‘Divorce Day’, the day when more people instruct solicitors to commence divorce proceedings than any other day. The theory is that having to put up with their spouses for a bad family Christmas is the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’, encouraging people to make a fresh start in the New Year.
To be honest, in twenty-five years practising I can’t say I ever particularly noticed a flood of new divorce business at the start of the year, but some solicitors will swear that it is a real phenomenon. Either way, I thought it would be timely to briefly recap the law on divorce.
Before I do so, however, I would recommend that anyone contemplating divorce to stop and think before they rush off to see their solicitors. Once divorce proceedings have been initiated, there is rarely a way back. If you think there is a possibility of saving the marriage, then consider marriage guidance.
If you are sure you want to proceed, then there is only one ground for divorce: that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This must be proved by showing one or more of five things:
- That your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live together. (Note that you cannot rely on your spouse’s adultery if you lived together for more than six months after you found out about it. You also cannot rely upon your own adultery).
- That your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live together (“unreasonable behaviour”).
- That your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of two years or more.
- That you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years and your spouse agrees to the divorce.
- That you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years.
If you can’t prove one of these things, then you can’t get divorced. Having said that, it would be a rare marriage indeed where the parties had behaved so impeccably throughout that one couldn’t say that the other had behaved unreasonably at some point.
If you are in any doubt as to whether you have grounds for divorce, you should consult a specialist solicitor.
John Bolch is a family law blogger