Family Law organisation Resolution is calling for a change to the procedure of separation to remove the compulsory implication of blame. Resolution’s proposal suggests a new process in which individuals may ‘give notice that marriage has broken down irretrievably’ as an alternative to assigning blame via the existing grounds for divorce. Under this proposed process, six months after making an official statement of intent, if both parties are in agreement that they want to proceed with the divorce, the decision will be legally finalised.
Currently, to apply for a divorce without a waiting period, one party must bear responsibility for the breakdown of the marriage. The only two facts currently available are unreasonable behaviour and adultery. Many people choose unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce when there is no clear cause for the breakdown of their relationship – most of us are unreasonable at one time or another, and ‘unreasonable behaviour’ can be as mild as watching football every weekend or filling the wardrobe with shoes. The problem with attributing blame within a separating couple is that it immediately creates an atmosphere of animosity, pitching one against another and making it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial solution. For couples who do not wish to lay blame, they must live apart for two years before being able to divorce in a non-combative manner.
Family lawyer Frances Lindsay explains: “Divorce is difficult enough, even if both parties are in agreement that the marriage should end, and it is only made worse by pointing fingers and having to declare in court how ‘badly’ each other have behaved. By assigning blame, there will always be the fear that any financial settlement will be affected by allegations of behaviour or adultery when in fact that is not the case. Since the introduction of the ‘quickie’ divorce with the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, divorce has been a matter of getting the paperwork in the right order – after that that no one looks at it again.”
Resolution states that allowing couples the option of a blameless divorce will reduce the strain on the family courts and increase the chance of success in out-of-court dispute resolution processes such as mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law. Academics from the Economic and Social Research Centre recently published a report showing that the legal requirement to assign blame is likely to “upset and antagonise parties and to disturb the equilibrium of the dispute resolution process.” The researchers concluded that: “Government’s promotion of non-adversarial approaches to family disputes needs to be underpinned by a non-adversarial – i.e. no fault – divorce regime.”
In addition to Resolution, the Government’s Family Mediation Taskforce is also in support of the introduction of a divorce without blame option, along with several presidents of the Family Division. Divorce without blame is already an active solution in many other countries, including the United States, Spain and Australia.
Chair of resolution Jo Edwards says: “We still have this charade of having to assign blame [adultery or unreasonable behaviour] if you want a divorce and haven’t been separated for at least two years – even if both spouses agree their marriage is at an end.
“This is a huge barrier to amicable dispute resolution and unnecessarily introduces conflict into the process. There have been repeated calls for no-fault divorce from the judiciary and policy makers. Whilst families have changed, our laws have not.”
Offering an alternative to blame-based divorce will allow couples to separate more easily and with less conflict, reducing the chance of getting tied up in a protracted court process. For those with children, a blameless divorce process will also reduce the impact of separation on their family, and enable them to move forward in a more positive way.
For now, the best choice for non-adversarial separation is to use the tried and tested out-of-court procedures of mediation, arbitration and collaborative family law. By discussing and working through issues in a supportive and objective environment, couples can seek productive solutions to their differences with the assistance of an experienced family law solicitor. Quicker, cheaper and less stressful than court divorce, these options are currently the least adversarial methods of separation for couples who wish to avoid laying blame on one another.
For more information on divorce and family law, speak to one of the friendly solicitors at Frances Lindsay & Co.divorce solicitor Beaconsfield, divorce solicitor Berkshire, divorce solicitor Buckinghamshire, divorce solicitor Henley, divorce solicitor Maidenhead, divorce solicitor Marlow, divorce solicitor Thames Valley, divorce solicitor Windsor, fixed fee divorce solicitor Beaconsfield