NI falling behind England & Wales in terms of amicable divorce options 

Married couples and families in Northern Ireland now have much fewer options than counterparts in England & Wales to move forward following relationship breakdown.

As of Wednesday 6 April, married couples in England & Wales will no longer have to make allegations about the conduct of their spouse in order to achieve a timely divorce, as the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force.

In Northern Ireland, married couples will continue to only be able to achieve a divorce after being married for one year, and on the grounds of ‘irretrievable breakdown.’

What does ‘irretrievable breakdown’ include?

  • adultery
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • two years’ desertion
  • two years’ separation (with partner’s consent)
  • five years’ separation


Whilst in the instances of adultery or unreasonable behaviour, a divorce can be triggered immediately in NI because they are ‘fault based,’ married couples otherwise have to wait a minimum of two years after separation before they can activate a non-fault based divorce. Is this fair?

Duane Farrell, CEO at Relate NI says; 

“When couples are experiencing relationship breakdown, if both parties agree there is no prospect of reconciliation, should they be forced to blame the other just to achieve a speedier divorce?” 

“England & Wales are moving on and saying that they shouldn’t, but Northern Ireland continues to maintain an archaic divorce system which fuels unnecessary animosity and blame which does not encourage positive co-parenting relationships.” 

“A wealth of research shows that frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict is damaging to children’s life chances, whether parents are together or apart. That’s why we are calling for the introduction of ‘No Fault Divorce’ legislation, as well as investment in relationship support services within our Assembly Election Manifesto of Key Policy Asks.”  

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