Divorce in the UK prior to 1857 was legally impossible - unless you were extremely wealthy and could afford to have a private Act of Parliament
passed, or a decree
made by the church. From 1857 onwards, courts could grant divorce, adultery
being the only grounds. Neither party could remarry.
Similar laws were introduced in Australia. Eventually, the fact that adultery was often staged to obtain a divorce was acknowledged, and other reasons could be given, such as desertion, cruelty, insanity
. In 1959, the State's forfeited their respective legislation regarding divorce to the Federal Government, so one law applied everywhere. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 (Cwlth) was widely criticised because all grounds for divorce required one spouse
to prove fault against the other. Of course, this may not have been the case at all but nobody wanted to be the party at fault, even if it expediated the process, because being at fault would affect custody
and property issues.
The Family Law Act 1975
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cwlth) removed all the previous grounds for divorce, eliminated the concept of fault and introduced the single ground of 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage,' to be shown by the parties living 'separately and apart' for twelve months. This was seen as fairer and more dignified than assigning blame to one party. There have been many reforms to the Act, and ideally it is still a 'no fault' proceeding, but domestic violence
can affect property allocation, custody and access in a big way.
Reforms made to this Act 20 years since its introduction make the divorce process even simpler. An application to the Family Court
for a divorce can be made by filling out a two page form, which is processed in six weeks. A court will recommend that all parties should undergo counselling, where settlements can be made without resorting to a full-blown court process; 90% of disputes are settled at this stage. If counselling fails the case goes to court. If there is no opposition, the whole hearing can be over in a matter of minutes. The judge grants a decree nisi
, which becomes a decree absolute
one month after.