Can I get divorced for irreconcilable differences? - The Law House Family Law Solicitors, London & Peterborough

Can I get divorced for irreconcilable differences?


People disagree over all sorts of things, from religion to politics, and it leads to discussions and debates. For married couples, strong disagreements, or irreconcilable differences make it impossible to live together any longer. However, you can’t get divorced because of ‘irreconcilable differences’. Divorce in England & Wales is granted on the basis of the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. There are 5 statutory reasons which can be relied upon as evidence of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage:-

(i) that your husband/wife has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with him/her
(ii) that your husband/wife has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with him/her
(iii) that your husband/wife has deserted you for a continuous period of at least two years
(iv) that you and your husband/wife have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years and your husband/wife consents to a divorce.
(v) that you and your husband/wife have lived apart for a continuous period of five years.

Although divorces based on the last 3 reasons are by no means uncommon, in practice most are based either on unreasonable behaviour or adultery. The reason for this you don’t have to wait for the first two. When a marriage breaks down it is not usually too difficult to find some instances of unreasonable behaviour on either or both sides and so this is, not unnaturally, seen as a route to a relatively quick divorce. When one spouse is convinced there is no future to the marriage he/she usually prefers to end it sooner rather than later. Indeed, there are good reasons not to delay.

One very common reaction when, say, a husband receives a divorce petition based on unreasonable behaviour is something along the lines of, “Why, you’ve been quite as unreasonable as me and so I’m going to defend it and issue my own petition.” It is important to understand that the reason for the divorce has, in the overwhelming majority of cases, no impact whatever on the other two issues which may need to be resolved – the questions of financial provision and/or any disputes affecting residence or contact with the children. These two latter issues are quite separate and dealt with completely independently of the divorce and using quite different criteria.

Once it is understood that the reason for divorce is not relevant in divorce laws, it is normally possible to allow it to proceed without acrimony and neither party need ordinarily attend court. It is, however, often a tricky issue to handle at the outset and, although it is perfectly possible to have an “amicable” divorce and very many people do so each year, the way it is dealt with in the initial stages can have a major impact on what happens later. In point of fact it is rarely possible to defend a divorce for two main reasons. Firstly, the fact that one party to the marriage has presented a divorce petition is a clear indicator of a serious breakdown in the relationship. Secondly, legal aid is rarely available to defend a divorce mainly for the reason given above. Although divorce petitions can be contested, it is uncommon and most solicitors would only recommend such a course if there was some clear advantage to be gained by doing so.