Examples of the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as a ground for divorce include:
- the spouses not living together for a continuous period of one year;
- abuse towards the spouse or the children;
- habitual criminality;
- drunkenness or drug addiction; or
- loss of love and affection between the spouses.
The court’s discretion to grant a divorce order
The court still has discretion not to grant a divorce order, and may postpone the proceedings or dismiss the claim if it appears to the court that there is a reasonable possibility that the parties may reconcile through counselling. If reconciliation is unsuccessful after a few months, the parties may proceed with the same summons. The summons will usually contain the averment that further counselling and/or treatment will not lead to any reconciliation. A court must, therefore, be satisfied that the marriage is really broken down and that there is no possibility of the continuation of a normal marriage.
What if the couple reconciles?
Where the parties reconcile and live together again after the summons was issued and served, it does not necessarily end the divorce proceedings. If, however, the reconciliation is unsuccessful after a few months, the parties may proceed with the same summons. It is extremely important to make sure that the summons is withdrawn formally if you do decide to reconcile. Withdrawal of the summons is formally affected when the plaintiff serves a document referred to as a notice of withdrawal of the summons on the defendant or his/her attorney. If this is not done, a divorce order may be obtained by default without the defendant being aware of it. If a divorce is obtained in this manner, the aggrieved party may approach the court to set aside the order.
Since the present law on divorce is no longer based on the principle of fault, defences like insanity or the plaintiff’s own adultery are no longer valid defences. Therefore, if a divorce is instituted on account of an irretrievable breakdown, there is in fact no defence to prevent the divorce from proceeding. But if the court finds that there is a reasonable possibility of reconciliation, it may postpone the proceedings in order that the parties attempt reconciliation; this, however, is not a defence, but merely amounts to a postponement.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)