Irretrievable Breakdown as the Ground for Divorce: The Divorce Reform Act 1969
In 1969, Parliament passed the Divorce Reform Act, which was supposedly based on the principle that the fact that a marriage had irretrievably broken down should be a sufficient and exhaustive ground for divorce. But the process which led to this legislation — still in force in the twenty-first century — was lengthy and complex. Firstly there was a Royal Commission (which, once again, was divided); then a group appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury gave its backing to the principle of ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as the only grounds for divorce; then the Law Commission considered that proposal, and a ‘compromise’ was reached. Eventually, after much manoeuvring, parliamentary approval was given, and the Bill was enacted. But what did it really mean? Did ‘easier divorce’ jeopardise the financial position of vulnerable women or the welfare of children? Criticism of the working of the law led to the passing of the Family Law Act 1996, but this has never been brought into force.
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