Divorce Law and Divorce Culture - the Case of Northern Ireland

Ciaran White, Patricia McKee, Claire Archbold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Roscoe Pound's 1910 observation that law in books and law in action are very different' is atthe heart of socio-legal research. Such research provided evidence of the failings of theMatrimonial Causes Act 1973 and at least in theory underpins2 the introduction of the newdivorce system for England and Wales in the Family Law Act 1996. One focus of criticism ofits predecessor was that the mix of fault and no-fault grounds of divorce3 had caused thesystem to revert to a fault-ethos as parties sought to divorce quickly, and the remedy chosen forthis was to alter procedure fundamentally in order to slow the system.4 In considering theexisting English legislation and that which is scheduled to replace it, it could be useful toconsider whether a system such as that under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 will inevitablybe subject to the same failings as the English system, or whether, and which, other factors willinterface with the written law to make the system evolve differently.Such a comparison is possible because Northern Ireland continues to operate a divorce lawalmost identical on paper to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Part of the UK, yet a separatejurisdiction from England and Wales; a common law jurisdiction, yet with some societaldifferences to other parts of the UK; Northern Ireland provides a perfect counterpoise to theexample of England. In addition to providing some useful pointers for the UK divorce reformdebate, a comparison of divorce practice in the two jurisdictions provides an insight into theways in which the law of the State may be mediated by community expectations, and by legalculture, to become something other than that originally envisaged.The 'Divorce in Northern Ireland' project on which this article is based undertook a study ofthe divorce system in Northern Ireland as it actually operates, which allows investigation ofpoints of similarity and difference to the English system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-394
JournalChild and Family Law Quarterly
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1998


  • litigation culture
  • divorce in practice
  • divorce culture
  • effective no-fault divorce


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