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A history of divorce law reform in England and Wales: evolution, revolution, or repetition?

Date:4 NOV 2018
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Associate Fellow

In this month's Family Law journal: a paper that traces the history of divorce law reform 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. There have been unsuccessful proposals to change the law, only for them to be proposed again later and implemented.

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Hence divorce law reform has had an evolutionary element, and, insofar as the same ideas have been suggested several times before implementation, there has also been a degree of repetition. Also, 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. In this respect, the change over 160 years can be termed revolutionary. The paper attempts to put these considerations into a wider context of the changing social and demographic characteristics of the population, and the changing norms and values of society, including those of the Church. Given that divorce reform is again under active discussion, a reminder of its history, particularly its recent history, is perhaps timely.


John Haskey has held a Visiting Senior Research Fellowship at the University of Oxford since 2000, and is now an Associate Fellow. He has published statistical studies on family demography, including contributions to Family Law. He is a past President of the British Society for Population Studies, and was recently elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

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