A majority of divorce petitions in England and Wales still rely on allegations of fault, mainly behaviour and adultery. The law of divorce has been subject to criticism for decades, most recently following the rare defended case of Owens v Owens. This major research study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, aimed to explore how the divorce law is working in practice.

Main Findings

The study found that in practice there is something tantamount to immediate unilateral divorce ‘on demand’ in England and Wales, but masked by an often painful, and sometimes destructive, legal ritual with no obvious benefits for the parties or the state. The law’s apparent rationale and operation are at odds with a modern, transparent, problem-solving family justice system that seeks to minimise the consequences of relationship breakdown for adults and children.


A clearer and more honest approach, that would also be fairer, more child-centred and cost-effective, would be to reform the law to remove ‘fault’ entirely. We propose a notification system where divorce would be available if one or both parties register that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and that intention is confirmed by one or both parties after a minimum period of six months. Download the full report, short summary and technical appendix from the "Research Findings" page.