Experts from a number of institutions are collaborating to research the UK divorce process in the first major study for 30 years. Researchers from the University of Exeter Law School, Bryson Purdon Social Research, One Plus One, Resolution and Wikivorce are working together to look at the current family law system by examining hundreds of divorce cases, conducting nationwide surveys and focus groups, and interviewing divorces and family lawyers.
Initial findings suggest that ‘behaviour’ is an inadequate option for choosing grounds for divorce for many couples, unnecessarily assigning blame to one or both parties and causing greater conflict throughout the separation process and beyond. In 2014 there were approximately 110,000 divorces, 48% of which cited ‘behaviour’ as the reason for separation. Looking at thousands of divorcee’s attitudes to the current family law system, researchers have proposed that when blame-based divorce is the only alternative to waiting 2-4 years or assigning a specific ‘fault’ (such as abandonment or infidelity), conflict between couples is exacerbated and it becomes difficult to negotiate finances and children’s arrangements without animosity.
As a result, the ongoing study suggests that individuals are giving inaccurate accounts of their relationship breakdown and stretching the truth to meet legal requirements to qualify for grounds of ‘behaviour’. The difficulty and lack of nuance in assigning blame has been demonstrated most recently in the case of Tini Owens, whose appeal for separation due to feeling ‘unloved, isolated and alone’ was overturned by the court as insufficient grounds for divorce.
Lead researcher Professor Trinder explains:
“The study really highlights the need for law reform, made more urgent after the Owens v Owens decision. We need a law that helps families look forward rather than back. The current law encourages spouses to blame each other for the breakdown, but then once they’ve done that, it expects them to work together as parents to put their children first.
“In reality, we already have divorce by consent or ‘on demand’. However, achieving that divorce without a long wait requires one party to throw mud at the other in what can be a needlessly painful and sometimes destructive legal ritual. The constraints on the court mean that undefended petitions can only be taken at face value and there is very little risk of a divorce petition being rejected on legal grounds. This is not a new problem. Just the same problems were found when the last major studies of divorce were done in the 1980s.
“The government is currently introducing a new online system for handling the divorce paperwork. This should result in a clearer and simpler process for the parties at a very stressful time in their lives. This would be a very good opportunity to also reform the substantive law so that divorce is based solely on irretrievable breakdown. That would mean a clearer, fairer and more honest.”
Family law organisation Resolution has been particularly vocal in calling for ‘divorce without blame’, and many family lawyers are in support of the reform of ‘outdated’ divorce laws and the development of a new no-fault system that simplifies the process for couples who wish to avoid conflict.
To speak to a solicitor about how to approach divorce with the minimum of blame and animosity, contact us at Frances Lindsay & Co. Out-of-court alternatives such as mediation, arbitration and collaborative family law offer cooperative methods of separation that seek to avoid conflict and provide positive outcomes for all involved. While we may not be able to offer no-fault divorce yet, we’ll do our best to take the weight off your shoulders and find a solution that suits your situation.Tags: divorce law, divorce solicitor, divorce without blame, mediation, no fault divorce, UK divorce