Northern Ireland moves towards no-fault divorces

Northern Ireland moves towards no-fault divorces

No-fault divorces could be introduced in Northern Ireland following similar legal reforms in England and Wales two years ago.

Northern Ireland’s finance minister Dr Caoimhe Archibald, who has responsibility for private family law, this week told MLAs that she “will ask my officials to explore how we can develop policy options relating to this important subject”.

No-fault divorces have been available south of the border since 1996 and in England and Wales since 2022.

On Monday, MLAs overwhelmingly backed a motion proposed by Sinn Féin MLA Nicola Brogan which called for legislation to amend the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 to allow applications for a divorce without apportioning blame to either party.

Ms Brogan said: “Our current divorce laws came into force in 1978 and are outdated. We need modern divorce laws that reflect the society in which we live today.”

Dr Archibald said she agreed that no-fault divorce “allows divorce to proceed on a less contentious basis and avoids parties being trapped in a marriage”, though suggested that Northern Ireland “might want to consider alternative approaches that reflect the values and views of our society and will deliver on the same goals”.

She added that any reforms to divorce law would have to come later in the current Assembly mandate, which runs to 2027, because of limited resources in her Department and ongoing work on other reforms to marriage law.

The Department of Finance is planning to bring legislation in 2025 which will increase the minimum wage for marriage or civil partnership from 16 to 18 and place belief marriages overseen by humanist celebrants on equal legal status with religious marriage.

That legislation “is well developed, and we hope to move forward with that quite soon”, Dr Archibald said. “I do not want to hold it up while we consult and develop proposals in relation to divorce, but… it is an issue that I am keen to see taken forward later in the mandate.”

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