The Coronavirus pandemic has had a negative impact on various aspects of our lives. Many relationships have been affected. A recent BBC report (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-54117821) suggests that we are likely to see a ‘divorce boom’ as the pandemic has intensified relationship difficulties. The prospect of initiating divorce proceedings may now be a consideration for many of us. As understanding of the grounds on which divorce may be granted is a helpful starting point.
Firstly, it is important to remember that in Northern Ireland you need to have been married for at least two years before you can petition for a divorce. Your marriage must have broken down irretrievably, and your petition must be made on one of the following grounds.
This ground can be used when your spouse has committed adultery during the time of your marriage. You must be able to prove that your spouse has committed adultery, which can be difficult to do in court if your spouse has not admitted to it. It is important to remember that if you continue to live with your spouse for more than six months after they have committed adultery, then you cannot use this as a ground for divorce.
To be granted a divorce on the ground of unreasonable behaviour, you must be able to show that your spouse has behaved in such a way that you can no longer be reasonably expected to live with them. For example, if they have been verbally or physically abusive towards you, if they have alcohol or drug addictions which have made them difficult to live with, or if there is a lack of communication between you.
If your spouse has left you for at least two years without your consent and without cause and it is clear your spouse has no intention of returning, you may petition for divorce on the ground of desertion. This ground is rarely used because it has been largely displaced by reliance on the fact of two years separation which is explained below.
Two years separation
You can be granted a divorce if you and your spouse have lived separately for two years, provided that your spouse consents to the divorce. You can still live in the same property as your spouse for up to six months, but you must live completely separate lives for example, cooking separately and not spending any time together.
Five years separation
If you and your spouse have lived separately for five years or more, you can ask the court for a divorce on this ground. You do not need your spouse’s consent and there is therefore no defence to this ground.
No fault divorces?
There has been some suggestion recently of introducing ‘no fault’ divorces, which would allow a couple to divorce simply because their marriage has irretrievably broken down. Many support this idea as it could reduce conflict, remove blame and simplify the divorce process. Others, however, fear it could have a negative impact on the sanctity of marriage, by making divorce too easy. While ‘no fault’ divorces may be something seen in the future, for now divorce in Northern Ireland remains possible only on the grounds described above.
If you would like advice in relation to divorce proceedings, or any other matrimonial issues please give us a call on 02891 817715 or contact our us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.