Irremediable or Irretrievable Breakdown

Irremediable or Irretrievable Breakdown
Irremediable or Irretrievable Breakdown
Full Overview Of Irremediable or Irretrievable Breakdown

The concept of “irremediable” or “irretrievable breakdown” has become a cornerstone in family law, especially in divorce and the dissolution of civil partnerships. These terms describe a situation where a marriage or partnership has deteriorated to such an extent that there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation. This overview aims to provide a detailed examination of what constitutes an irremediable or irretrievable breakdown, the legal framework surrounding it, and the implications for those involved.

At DLS Solicitors, we aim to offer a comprehensive understanding of this significant legal concept, supporting clients through the complexities of family law with empathy and expertise.

Historical Context

In the past, divorce was only allowed in certain cases, such as adultery or desertion. This often led to a lot of conflict and blame, as one person had to be held responsible for the end of the marriage. The idea of irretrievable breakdown changed this by focusing on the overall breakdown of the marriage rather than placing blame on one person.

In 1969, the Divorce Reform Act in England and Wales introduced irretrievable breakdown as the only reason for divorce. This was later reinforced by the Matrimonial Causes Act in 1973, which is still the main law governing divorce today. The goal of these changes was to make divorce less adversarial and to acknowledge that sometimes marriages just don’t work out, without blaming anyone in particular.

Grounds for Divorce

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, there is only one ground for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. To establish this, the petitioner (the person seeking the divorce) must prove one of five facts:

  1. Adultery: The respondent (the other spouse) has committed adultery, and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with them.
  2. Unreasonable Behaviour: The respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.
  3. Desertion: The respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years.
  4. Two Years’ Separation with Consent: The parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years, and the respondent consents to the divorce.
  5. Five Years’ Separation: The parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years, and no consent is required from the respondent.

These facts serve as evidence to support the claim of irretrievable breakdown, which is the fundamental ground for divorce.

No-Fault Divorce

A significant development in family law is the introduction of no-fault divorce, which came into effect in April 2022 under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. This reform allows couples to divorce without assigning blame or proving any of the five facts previously required. The move towards no-fault divorce aims to simplify the process, reduce conflict, and minimise the emotional stress on both parties and any children involved.

Under the new system, a statement of irretrievable breakdown is sufficient to initiate divorce proceedings. This statement can be made jointly by both parties or by one party alone. The introduction of a minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to the conditional order (formerly decree nisi) and an additional six weeks to the final order (formerly decree absolute) ensures a reflective period, providing an opportunity for reconciliation if possible.

Implications of Irremediable or Irretrievable Breakdown

Emotional and Psychological Impact

The recognition of an irremediable or irretrievable breakdown can be an emotionally challenging experience. It signifies the end of a significant personal relationship, often accompanied by feelings of loss, grief, and failure. Acknowledging these emotions and seeking appropriate support, whether through counselling, therapy, or support groups is crucial. Understanding the emotional impact can help individuals navigate the process more effectively and emerge with closure and readiness for a new chapter.

Financial Implications

Divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership has significant financial implications. The division of assets, including property, savings, investments, and pensions, must be carefully considered. Maintenance payments, both spousal and child maintenance, need to be determined. The court’s primary concern is the fair and equitable distribution of assets, considering both parties’ needs and contributions.

Children and Custody Arrangements

The irremediable breakdown of a relationship brings additional complexities for couples with children. Ensuring the welfare of the children is paramount. This involves making custody arrangements (now called “child arrangements”), visitation, and financial support. The court encourages parents to reach amicable agreements that prioritise the children’s best interests, often through mediation and collaborative legal processes.

Initiating Proceedings

To initiate divorce proceedings based on irremediable or irretrievable breakdowns, the petitioner must file a divorce application with the family court. The application includes a statement confirming the breakdown of the marriage. Under the no-fault system, this statement is sufficient without the need to prove any specific facts.

Responding to Proceedings

The respondent will receive the divorce application and have the opportunity to respond. Under the new no-fault system, contesting a divorce is generally not possible, simplifying the process and reducing potential conflicts.

Financial Settlements

Financial settlements are a crucial aspect of the divorce process. Both parties must provide full financial disclosure detailing their assets, liabilities, income, and expenditures. Negotiations can be conducted directly between parties, through solicitors, or via mediation. If an agreement cannot be reached, the court will determine a fair settlement based on factors such as the length of the marriage, the needs of each party, and their contributions to the marriage.

Child Arrangements

Child arrangements are typically addressed separately from financial settlements. Parents are encouraged to reach agreements amicably, focusing on the children’s best interests. If an agreement cannot be reached, the court will intervene and make orders regarding custody, visitation, and child maintenance.

Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution

Mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) play a vital role in managing the consequences of an irremediable or irretrievable breakdown. Mediation involves a neutral third party who assists the divorcing couple in negotiating a settlement. It is a cost-effective and less adversarial approach compared to traditional litigation. ADR methods, such as collaborative law and arbitration, offer additional avenues for resolving disputes amicably.

The Role of Solicitors

As family law solicitors at DLS, we provide expert legal advice and support throughout the divorce process. We guide our clients through the legal requirements, help them understand their rights and obligations, and work towards achieving fair and equitable outcomes. Our services include:

  • Initial Consultation: Understanding the client’s situation, providing an overview of the legal process, and outlining potential strategies.
  • Document Preparation: Assisting with the preparation and filing of divorce applications, financial disclosure forms, and child arrangement proposals.
  • Negotiation and Mediation: Representing clients in negotiations, mediations, and ADR processes to reach amicable settlements.
  • Court Representation: Representing clients in court proceedings when necessary, ensuring their interests are effectively advocated.
  • Post-Divorce Support: Offering ongoing support and advice on matters such as enforcement of orders, variations in maintenance, and other post-divorce issues.


The idea of an irremediable or irretrievable breakdown is central to modern family law. This reflects a shift towards a more humane and less contentious approach to divorce. The introduction of no-fault divorce further simplifies the process, reducing the emotional and financial toll on those involved. Understanding the legal framework, implications, and available support mechanisms is essential for effectively navigating this challenging period.

At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to providing compassionate and expert legal assistance to individuals facing the end of a marriage or civil partnership. We aim to help our clients achieve fair outcomes, minimise conflict, and support them through the transition to a new chapter in their lives. Whether through mediation, negotiation, or court representation, we are dedicated to protecting our clients’ interests and helping them move forward with confidence and clarity.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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