Stormont backs move towards no-fault divorce

A call to introduce no-fault divorce in Northern Ireland has received almost universal backing from Stormont.

In a debate lasting just under an hour and a half, only the TUV’s Jim Allister spoke against a motion asking for legislation to be brought forward to amend the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 and “allow applications for a divorce without apportioning blame to either party”.

At the end of the debate, the Assembly’s Principal Deputy Speaker Carál Ní Chuilín noted that she heard “just one dissenting voice”, meaning no vote was required to carry the motion.

‘Fashionable idea’

Nicola Brogan of Sinn Féin, who proposed the change, claimed existing divorce laws are “outdated” and that “modernisation” would allow divorces to “proceed on a less contentious basis and within a much quicker time frame”.

But Jim Allister responded: “Marriage is a coherent thread keeping society and families often together so it inevitably follows that when you embrace easy, no-fault divorce, then you cheapen marriage. Marriage is based on solemn vows, and no-fault divorce demeans, diminishes and disregards those vows.”

He feared the proposal would allow “one person to say, ‘In spite of you, I will inflict divorce upon you’”.

The MLA cautioned the House against “rushing into the fashionable idea of saying, ‘What is marriage? Forget about it. Walk in one door, walk out the other, and who cares?’”, adding: “That is the attitude of no-fault divorce”.

‘Quickie divorce’

No-fault divorce was introduced in England and Wales when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act came into effect in 2022. Under the law, couples can divorce in six months without having to give a reason and a spouse cannot contest the decision.

Before the new law was introduced, anyone wanting to divorce their spouse had to prove their marriage had irretrievably broken down through either adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or separation for two years with their spouse’s consent, or five years without.

The current law includes a statutory 20-week period that the Ministry of Justice described as an opportunity for couples “to reflect and turn back”.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster in 2022, the Institute’s Ciarán Kelly highlighted the tragic consequences of the new ‘quickie divorce’ law in England and Wales and warned Northern Ireland not to make the same mistake.

Please accept preferences cookies to view this content.

Also see:

‘A big mistake’: MP Miriam Cates takes aim at no-fault divorce

Lord Farmer: ‘Marriage and stable families key to safer society’

Miriam Cates MP: ‘Govt must promote marriage to tackle family breakdown’

Divorce applications highest in a decade after new quickie divorce law