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The 'Irreconcilable Differences' Myth

You would have to be living under a rock to have missed the news over the past month that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are divorcing. The petition, issued by Angelina Jolie in the Superior Court of California, cites ‘irreconcilable differences’ as the reason the couple have decided to go their separate ways.

The phrase ‘irreconcilable differences’ is widely known throughout the UK. Many people incorrectly assume that it is indeed a phrase from the legal system here in England and Wales, and that it can be used as a reason when issuing divorce proceedings. However, it is a term from the American legal system and is probably so widely known in the UK from its use on television programmes and in the media. It effectively means a ‘no fault’ divorce, where the blame for the breakdown of the marriage is not attributed to either party but is more of a mutual decision.

This type of divorce is not available under the English legal system. The introduction of a ‘no fault’ divorce has been discussed in a Private Members Bill in Parliament 2015 but the proposition has been heavily criticised. Sir Edward Leigh MP, in particular, has strongly opposed the introduction as he believes it could have a widespread, damaging impact on society. He has cited the example of Canada, where the introduction of a ‘no fault’ divorce corresponded with an increase in the number of divorces six-fold in just two years, after a century of relatively stable divorce rates.

In order to obtain a divorce under the legal system of England and Wales, you must issue a petition citing on one of the following five facts as the reason the marriage has irretrievably broken down:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • 2 years separation with the consent of the other party
  • 5 years separation with no consent required

Therefore, if you wish to issue proceedings without waiting 2 or 5 years from separation, you must cite one of the first three ‘fault’ based factors in the divorce petition. Research carried out by YouGov on behalf of the family law group Resolution, published in June 2015, found that of those surveyed 27% alleged that the ‘fault’ detailed in their petition wasn’t true but was simply the easiest option in order to obtain a divorce. There has been much discussion surrounding the idea of an introduction of the option of a ‘no fault’ divorce. It could reduce the need for petitions being issued that may be partly untrue and may also help ease animosity between the divorcing couple, which could then permeate through to reduce hostility in any subsequent financial and childcare discussions.

Here at QualitySolicitors Howlett Clarke we have a very experienced family law team that can draw on a wealth of knowledge to guide you through the divorce process, to help make what can be a confusing and challenging time as stress free as possible. Both Fiona Connah and Hannah Milrain are accredited Resolution specialist lawyers and Fiona is also a Collaborative lawyer. If you require assistance with the possible breakdown of your marriage a good place to start is with an Ask the Legal Expert appointment; 45 minutes of advice for just £99 at either our Brighton or Southwick office.

If you would like to get in touch about any of these matters, please feel free to email or call us on 01273 327272.

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