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No-fault Divorce Law Will End 'Blame Game'

View profile for Julie Bailey
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Earlier today I spoke to Melvyn Prior on BBC Radio Lincolnshire about no-fault divorce after Justice Secretary David Gauke pledged to introduce legislation to end the ‘blame game’.

The move follows a public consultation during which family justice professionals and those with direct experience of divorce voiced their support for reform, stating that the current system can work against any prospect of reconciliation.

Current laws demand proof that a marriage has broken down irretrievably and force spouses to evidence ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or years of separation, even in cases where a couple have made a mutual decision to part ways.

Proposals for changes to the law include:

  • replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
  • creating the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process
  • removing the ability to contest a divorce
  • introducing a minimum timeframe of six months, from petition stage to final divorce.

As a family lawyer I welcome the proposed changes. Many couples who come to see me say they have just drifted apart and the relationship is over, but the law currently states that you must show your marriage has irretrievably broken down for one of five reasons, three of which involve a period of at least two years’ separation. If the parties haven’t been separated for two years, they are left with either unreasonable behaviour or adultery.

Although we as lawyers do call it no-fault divorce at the moment, because only in very limited circumstances does the reason for the divorce carry forward and have any bearing in relation to finances or children, the reality is that you have to have some sort of fault or blame, particularly with an unreasonable behaviour petition. You must cite sufficient facts for the court to agree to the divorce, and of course we recently had the case of Owens v Owens where Mrs Owens was refused a divorce because the court ruled that her husband, who was refusing the spilt, hadn't done enough wrong to justify there being a divorce. Mrs Owens was told she must remain married to Mr Owens until 2020 when she will be able to rely on the ground of five years’ separation without his consent to a divorce, which is an awful situation if you’ve decided you no longer want to be in a marriage.

I also come across couples where no-one is at fault, but one person will agree to accept blame to make it easier. This can trigger feelings of resentment which can then flow into other areas of the of the proceedings and can make them much more acrimonious. As a family lawyer I am very aware of how damaging this can be to children as it undermines the relationship between parents after divorce. Maintaining some form of relationship for the good of the children is vital and that can sometimes be very difficult when spouses are forced into a situation of having to allege blame at such an early stage in the proceedings.

Exactly when the new legislation will be introduced is not yet known and we still have to await further details as to how it will fit in with financial side of things, for example; but anything that helps to reduce family conflict can only be a good thing.

For more information on divorce and separation visit the family section on our website or call (01522) 512123 in Lincoln or (01636) 673743 in Newark.