A proposal to overhaul divorce laws in England and Wales is being considered in order to reduce antagonism between separating couples and streamline the divorce process.
A consultation to introduce the option for ‘no fault’ divorce could offer couples the opportunity to separate without assigning blame to either party in what is being called a ‘landmark moment’ for family law.
In July 2018 an appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court to grant Tini Owens a divorce after her husband contested her grounds of feeling ‘unhappy’ and ‘unloved’. Due to the court’s decision, Owens is being forced to remain married until 2020. The case brought light to a long-called-for change to divorce laws in England and Wales, which require petitioners to assign blame when applying for a divorce, based on one of five ‘grounds’: adultery, abandonment, unreasonable behaviour, and separation for two or five years.
Currently there is no ‘faultless’ option, and the need to lay blame (and, on the part of the respondent, to accept these grounds), often causes unnecessary and inflammatory acrimony to an already delicate process of dispute resolution. The only way to divorce without the consent of a spouse is to live apart for five years – a situation that is difficult for many individuals who wish to move on with their lives and do not have the means to do so without the division of joint assets.
The new proposals, long-campaigned for by family law organisation Resolution and many others in the legal world, would allow blame to be removed from the separation process entirely. The reform would essentially remove the ability for respondents to contest a divorce petition and reduce the length of time a couple need to wait to apply for divorce to six months.
The chairman of Resolution, Nigel Shepherd, stated that too many couples have been forced to endure ‘needless acrimony and conflict’ under current divorce laws and called for a system ‘fit for the modern age’.
Justice Secretary David Gauke offered a similar view, commenting that the existing process was ‘out of touch with modern life:
“Marriage is a hugely important institution, but when a relationship ends it cannot be right that the law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.
“We think that the blame game that currently exists helps nobody; it creates unnecessary antagonism and anxiety at an already trying time for couples.
“In particular, where there are children involved it’s very important that we do everything to ensure that the future relationship between the divorcing couple is as harmonious as possible.”
The proposed changes to the divorce process involve:
- Making ‘irretrievable breakdown of a marriage’ the sole grounds for divorce
- Removing the need for petitioners to provide evidence of their spouse’s misconduct
- Getting rid of the requirement for a couple to live apart for a significant period of time before being able to apply for an uncontested divorce
- Removing the ability for respondents to contest the divorce application
- Reducing the minimum timeframe between the interim and final decree of divorce
- Applying the reform to heterosexual marriages, same-sex marriages, and civil partnerships
The consultation will run over 12 weeks and close on the 10th of December, with aims to implement any agreed changes ‘as quickly as possible’.
In the meantime, for couples who are looking to separate with the minimum of blame, antagonism and stress, there are a few existing options that encourage cooperation and a healthier outlook for separation, such as mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law.
For more advice on the divorce process and options for dispute resolution, book a free 45 minute consultation with the friendly, down-to-earth divorce solicitors at Frances Lindsay & Co. We are staunch supporters of the no-fault divorce proposals and always aim to help couples to find a method of separation that suits their unique circumstances, taking the weight off your shoulders so you can concentrate on working through your relationship issues and make a brand new start.