Divorce over the years

Divorce over the years

Laura Clay-Harris

Laura Clay-Harris


With ‘no fault divorce’ recently reaching its two year anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to look back over the history of divorce – indeed over two thousand years of divorce in England.

Just like in school, we should start by looking at the Romans.  England was part of the Roman Empire from 43 to 410 AD and therefore covered by their laws.  The right to divorce was first available to men, but later extended to women.   This shows an approach to equality of gender at that time, that some might be surprised by, considering the changes that followed.

In certain cases divorce was also available to the father of the wife, if he had retained legal custody over her despite the marriage.  This was used by some as an economic or political tool to preserve a dowry and perhaps secure a more advantageous match.

It was apparently expected that there should be a serious reason to grant the divorce, however records show that examples of a reason included behaviour such as wine consumption and grave robbery.   Providing a reason for divorce may have prevented some couples from divorcing, but it is more likely that people managed to find a reason that suited their purpose. 

The Roman rule of England ended and the next time period is commonly referred to as the Dark Ages, which stretched from the fifth century to the Norman Invasion of 1066.  The term ‘Dark Ages’ is now disputed, given the cultural and scientific developments that happened in this period.  An alternate view of this name is due to the fact comparatively few records exist from this time.  In England, the structure of the Roman Empire had reduced, and Christianity is still taking hold. 

The evidence we do have is that marriages could be ended fairly easily.  People (potentially just men from what I  can tell) were able to ‘set aside’ their spouse with little more than a conversation.  It is believed the practice of ‘setting aside’ was frowned on by the church.  It is also recorded that this practice caused problems with children and the inheritance of titles and assets. 

By the medieval period, the church had a strong hold on the legal and moral expectations of the citizenship of England.  The grounds for ending a marriage were far more limited.  One example is consanguinity – when two people were considered to be too closely related.  This usually referred to being related by blood but apparently on occasion also extended to spiritual relationships such as godchildren and godparents.   

This (inevitably) leads us to Henry VIII! Henry VIII’s separation from Katharine of Aragon might be the most famous divorce in this country.  Coded The Kings Great Matter, it took around six years and resulted in the overturn of the country’s faith and legal system. 

The next big change in divorce law that I have chosen to focus on is the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857.  This is the point when divorce was made more widely available to the general population of England, and formally moved the area of divorce from the ecclesiastical court to the civil court.   

The initial Act did not look as it does now – the ground of adultery was only available to men, while women had to prove incest or rape.   All proceedings took place in open court, in turn providing gossip for the general public. 

The Act was amended in 1923 to put men and women on an equal footing – partially a result of the shift in attitudes towards gender following the first world war.   Despite this change, adultery remained the only ground available for most couples.  This led to couples deliberately setting up adulterous-looking situations – such as booking a hotel room – to provide the evidence required for a divorce. 

The Divorce Reform Act 1969 followed, which was consolidated into the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973.   The five grounds – ‘facts’ for divorce were five years separation, two years separation (with consent), desertion, unreasonable behaviour and adultery.  These grounds were in use for just under 50 years, until the hard work of divorce reform groups led to the Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.    People no longer have to put blame on the other party, or wait years, to obtain a divorce. 

This has been a very brief overview of 2000 years of divorce history in England – and from somebody who has an interest in history but is no expert!   It is possible to draw some comparisons over time.    Recently, there has been a big push for transparency in the family court, and this isn’t new as early divorces were well documented and publicised.  The fight between privacy and transparency may be something the family court will always struggle with.    The development of the grounds available to separating couples has led us to the current ‘no fault divorce’ law which was welcomed by divorce reform groups and separating couples alike. 

Laura Clay-Harris

Laura Clay-Harris


Not to be reproduced without permission.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.

Spotlight on Stalking for National Stalking Awareness Week

Spotlight on Stalking for National Stalking Awareness Week

National Stalking Awareness Week is taking place this week (22 – 26 April 2024). The theme this year is “Join Forces Against Stalking” and highlights the importance of multi-agency approach to help support victims. In support of this campaign, FM Family Law will be sharing content across our platforms to raise awareness around stalking and what can be done to combat it.

In this article, we explain what stalking is, the types of behaviours to look out for, practical tips for staying safe and where to turn to for help. The sophisticated ways in which digital technology is currently being used by perpetrators is also addressed.

What is stalking?

Stalking and harassment is when someone repeatedly behaves in a way that makes the victim feel scared, distressed or threatened. It can often be combined or overlap with other offences such as harassment. There are different types of stalking and harassment and anyone can be a victim. 

Stalking and harassment are criminal offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Stalking and similar behaviours that take place in the context of relationships or former relationships are considered to be forms of domestic abuse. An application can be made to court for an order preventing a perpetrator from contacting the victim or coming near the victim if they need protection – this is known as a non-molestation order.

Examples of stalking behaviours

  • Fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated behaviour that makes the victim feel pestered and harassed
  • Following the victim
  • Standing/loitering around places the victim frequents (whether public or private)
  • Unsolicited post and gifts
  • Repeatedly texting, emailing and leaving voice messages
  • Befriending the victim’s friends and family
  • Digital stalking – Cyber-stalking or ‘tech abuse’

Digital stalking

Common internet-connected devices such as smartphones and laptops are routinely used for online stalking and other forms of abuse. Perpetrators may exploit location tracking features of certain apps such as Apple’s ‘Find My’ function. Perpetrators may also use dedicated spyware designed to covertly monitor and gather information about a device, allowing them to look at messages and photographs, access a device’s camera, record screen activity and track its location without the victim’s knowledge or consent.  

Home security systems, wearable devices and remote control of internet-connected home appliances can also be used by the perpetrator.

Things you can do

If any of the above examples apply to you, and the behaviour is making you feel fearful, harassed or anxious, then know that it is not something you should have to live with, and there is help available for you.

  • Keep a diary– Write down the date, time, location and details of what happens. It’s also a good idea to include information about any other witnesses who can confirm what happened.

  • Keep copies of all communication – letters, text messages and emails, and take screenshots of other online messages (e.g. on Facebook or WhatsApp).

  • Do not engage your stalker.

  • Be physically safe  – carry a personal alarm, vary your daily routines, instal an alarm or security camera at home and make sure windows and doors are locked.

  • Don’t block your stalker on social media – this can escalate their behaviour if you are already connected. Instead, limit what you post, who sees your posts, or set up a different account.

  • Don’t give away personal information – You can carry out an online search of yourself to see what information is already published about you and take any necessary steps to remove or secure it.

  • Digital check – Turn off location and tagging settings, keep antivirus software up to date and, if you think your phone or laptop has been hacked, stop using them and either take them to a specialist or replace them.

  • Inform & report. Secrecy fuels stalking behaviour – if nobody knows what is going on that gives the stalker the power to keep going. If people around you know, they can help keep you safe. You can report what is happening to the police either by calling 101 (if it’s not an emergency) or 999 (if you are in immediate danger).
  • Get legal advice – consider the possibility of a non-molestation order.

If you are, or someone you know is, being stalked or harassed, get in touch with our team of approachable family law experts at FM Family Law. We have extensive experience in obtaining personal protective injunctions such as non-molestation orders to achieve an end to unwanted behaviours, as well as working with criminal law specialists who can advise on the criminal process.

Not to be reproduced without permission.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.

Friday Focus on Emma Wager

Friday Focus on Emma Wager

We asked Emma Wager, who joined FM Family Law in October 2023, a quick Q&A as part of our Friday Focus series to give you the opportunity to get to know a bit more about her. If you missed any of our previous posts, you can find them here.


What’s your role at FM Family Law?

I am an Associate Solicitor and Mediator.


What do you most enjoy about what you do?

I genuinely enjoy getting to know my clients and their key concerns and objectives for themselves and their family. In some cases the relationship between a client and their solicitor/mediator can be a long one and so it’s important that it’s a good fit. 


What is your proudest professional achievement?

There are many times when I feel like I have been able to make a difference to my clients’ lives, whether this be by way of reassurance in our first meeting, or at the other end of the journey as they are able to move forward with their lives.

I am personally very proud of my qualifying and building my mediation practice, having undertaken a lot of training alongside my legal practice in 2021. I am very passionate about resolving matters outside of court wherever possible and really like being able to offer this service myself. My experience as a mediator also complements my work as a solicitor and means that I am able to offer insightful support and advice for clients alongside the mediation process. 


When did you realise you wanted to go into law and what pathway did you take?

I have been working in law firms since I was 16 years old, when I worked as an office assistant in a local law firm in Plymouth one afternoon a week.

I had quite a long pathway to how I got from there to where I am now, involving a number of cities…! I studied Law and German at Cardiff University, including a year studying in the town of Passau in Germany. After university, I went straight into work as a paralegal at a national law firm based in London, and later moved to Southampton when that firm opened a new office.

Upon qualification I moved back to London, where I worked in the family team of a top-tier law firm for just over 6 years before joining FM Family Law and relocating to Cambridge in October 2023.

After lots of moving around, I am hopeful that Cambridge is going to be by home for many years to come, and indeed my home in the FM Family Law team too.  


What legal-themed book/film/TV-series would you recommend to others?

I really enjoyed US shows like Suits and The Good Wife, and of course Legally Blonde – all of course for entertainment purposes… while I love what I do, I can’t say the real life experience is as glamorous!  


What’s the best advice you give clients?

I am always conscious to ensure that clients have the right support around them. Going through a separation and/or divorce is one of the most difficult and stressful life events that anyone can experience and so it’s essential to have not just good legal support, but also the support of family, friends and often additional therapeutic support.


Emma Wager


01223 826002
07756 295957


FM Family Law announces partnership with Run Norwich

FM Family Law announces partnership with Run Norwich

We are delighted to announce we will be sponsoring Run Norwich this year.


Run Norwich is organised by Norwich City Community Sports Foundation, a charity which improves the quality of life for those who need it most and helps thousands of people in the Norwich and Norfolk community every year achieve their goals through sport.


Run Norwich, the Foundation’s flagship event of the year, is an award-winning 10km race in the heart of the beautiful and historic city of Norwich. Each year the race has enjoyed huge success and is a calendar highlight in the local community.


One of the main aims of the race is to support and raise awareness of local charities. Proceeds generated from the race also go towards supporting the Foundation’s charitable work which benefits people of all ages, from children through to later life.


We are delighted to be supporting such an iconic event which is a fantastic opportunity to bring families and communities together.


Sue Bailey, Partner and Head of the Norwich Office at FM Family Law says:


We are excited to be partnering with Run Norwich as part of FM Family Law’s ongoing commitment to community investment. Run Norwich offers amazing support and opportunities in our community and we are proud to help fundraise for an event that makes such a positive impact”.


With a new autumnal date, Run Norwich will take place on Sunday 8 September 2024.  More information about the race can be found here.

Former cohabitants: take legal advice before sending that email

Former cohabitants: take legal advice before sending that email


Numerous emails are sent every day. You may send an email to your former partner about a property you own together, or you may instruct a lawyer to do this for you.

If you decide to try and resolve this yourself it is important to appreciate the potential pitfalls, especially without having the benefit of legal advice.

Lawyers are trained in law and are paid to communicate on your behalf. They know what to say, when to say it and in what format. You may consider a lawyer’s fees are too high, that lawyers do not bring value to you, or that the law cannot be that complex and you can navigate it by yourself.

The case of Hudson v Hathway [2022] EWCA Civ 1648, is the most recent reminder of the need for former cohabitants to be careful in how you communicate with each other. It reinforces the value of seeking legal advice before making any final decisions on how the beneficial interest in a property should be held.

The facts very briefly are that the Ms Hathway and Mr Hudson were unmarried and had children. They co-owned their home. There was no written document known as a Declaration of Trust defining their beneficial interests (their ‘shares’ in the property). Mr Hudson left the home in 2009. Ms Hathway and the children remained in the property.  In 2013 through a series of emails between the pair, Mr Hudson offered to forego his share of equity in the property if Ms Hathway made no claim against his pension and shares.  He said specifically of the house they owned that he wanted “none of the proceeds of that either…” and he signed the email with his first name.

He later changed his mind and wanted 50% of the net equity upon sale.  It was held that Mr Hudson’s emails did amount to a release of his interest in the property; they evidenced “a clear intention to divest himself of that interest immediately, rather than a promise to do so in the future” and that, as he had signed his emails with his name, the statutory formalities required by 53(1)(a) and (c) of the Law of Property Act 1925 were met.

Therefore Mr Hudson had, in the moment he sent his email to Ms Hathway, expressly released his interest in the home to Ms Hathway.

One other point of note here is that Mr Hudson seemed to believe that Ms Hathway had a claim on his pension and on his shares, hence his offer to walk away if she made no claim against either. He was wrong. As they were unmarried she had no claim against either. However, despite Mr Hudson’s belief being wrong, this did not change the outcome.

If you wish to speak to someone about your property rights or ownership on separation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me and I shall be pleased to assist.

Karen Fox

Karen Fox

Associate (MCILEX)

Not to be reproduced without permission.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.

FM Family Law launches voucher scheme for Family Mediation Week 2024

FM Family Law launches voucher scheme for Family Mediation Week 2024

FM Family Law is proud to be supporting Family Mediation Week this year which runs from 22 January to 26 January 2024. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness of family mediation and the many benefits it can bring families experiencing separation.

Mediation is a way for you to discuss and resolve issues away from lawyers and away from court. The role of the mediator is to remain neutral, facilitate and support discussions, as well as to help explore various options. Where appropriate, family mediation can be a great option for you to take control, make decisions together and build a positive future for themselves and their family, particularly if there are children involved.

In support of Family Mediation Week, FM Family Law is pleased to announce that we will be offering a voucher scheme. The voucher will provide a contribution of £500 (£250 each) towards the cost of the first two joint mediation meetings. The voucher will be available on request and is subject to availability. Full details and terms below.

We have three experienced Resolution Family Mediators at FM Family Law: Sue Bailey, Christina Hale and Emma Wager.

If you would like to enquire about booking your mediation meeting with one of our mediators please contact us:

Contact us on 01223 826000 (Cambridge) or 01603 343660 (Norwich) to enquire.

You can also read more about our family mediation service here.

Terms and Conditions

  1. Each joint mediation meeting is charged at £500 inc vat (£250 inc vat per participant) for 90 minutes at the standard rate, thus the total cost for two joint mediation meetings at the standard rate would be £1,000 inc vat (£500 inc vat per participant).
  2. The voucher offers a total discount of £500 inc vat (£250 inc vat per participant) exclusively against the cost of the first two joint mediation meetings with FM Family Law, therefore the voucher will reduce the cost of each joint mediation meeting to £250 inc vat (£125 inc vat per participant).
  3. To qualify for the voucher:
    – The voucher scheme must be specifically requested at the time of booking;

    – each participant must have completed their initial intake meeting with their mediator;
    – should both participants agree to mediate after their respective first individual meetings, and the mediator considers the matter appropriate for mediation, then the first two joint mediation meetings will be arranged, invoiced and paid in advance.
  4. The voucher applies providing there are two joint mediation meetings or more. If in fact only one joint mediation meeting takes place, no refund is offered to participants as the £250 inc vat cost after applying the voucher is to cover the cost of the first two joint mediation meetings.
  5. The voucher does not apply to other work related to mediation or to further mediation sessions, the costs of which can be provided on request.
  6. If the first two joint mediation meetings over run the allotted 90 minutes (each) then the extra time will be invoiced after the meeting.
  7. The voucher has no cash value and cannot be transferred, or exchanged for alternative services.
  8. This offer is limited and subject to availability, and FM Family Law reserves the right to modify or withdraw the scheme at any time.
  9. Meetings will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.
  10. FM Family Law reserves the right to refuse or terminate mediation services if any participant breaches the terms and conditions outlined herein.

By participating in this voucher scheme, participants agree to abide by these terms and conditions.