Divorces by fact proven over the past half century in England and Wales: the historical context; statistical trends, and future prospects

This presentation traces the history of divorce law reform in England and Wales from the start of civil divorce in 1858, seeking insight, where possible, from the related statistical trends, both before the reform, to put into context the pressures for reform – and also after the reform, to consider its detectable effects. The fundamental criterion upon which divorce can be granted has changed radically, from the sole ground of adultery to the “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” which can be ‘proved’ in a number of different ways. Using statistical information, the presentation explores how the law on divorce has been used, especially during the last 50 years when the 1969 Divorce Reform Act has been in operation. The various trends in divorces by fact proven and by party awarded the decree are analysed, and brief mention is made of potential influencing and explanatory factors*. In addition, an analysis is given of the relative proportions of ‘fault’ and ‘no-fault’ divorces granted to wives and husbands, and how the balance has changed over the 50 years of the 1969 Act. An assessment is made of the impact of the introduction of the fact of 5 years’ separation without consent, which controversially allowed, for the first time, a spouse to be divorced against their will. Brief mention will be made of the proposed new divorce law.