Earlier this year the Government announced plans for a change in legislation to introduce an option for ‘no-fault’ divorce. This would mean a huge – and very welcome – change to the existing family law system which currently requires couples to either live apart for a significant amount of time or make allegations against one or other in order to separate, in many cases increasing the duration, stress and potential animosity of the process.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the focus for reform is to reduce conflict and ‘place greater emphasis on future relationships – particularly those involving children – and to enable reconciliation where possible.’ The new legislation highlights the need for couples to enter into the divorce process in a constructive way rather than provoking acrimony and hostility. The current system has been likened to a ‘blame game’ in which one or other party must admit ‘fault’, or enter into a protracted court battle in order to prove their case. In many situations, this fault is purely the breakdown of a relationship, and may be difficult to prove or even explain. Sometimes a marriage simply doesn’t work out, and couples should not be punished for the path their relationship has taken; instead, they should be given the option to move on in a productive and collaborative way and minimise the negative effects of divorce.
This is most critical of all for couples who must continue working together in parental roles, and the Government proposals aim to reframe the process of divorce, shifting away from blame and focusing more on support and cooperation to enable separating parents to make arrangements for their children’s future.
Justice Secretary David Gauke commented: “Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances. While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.”
Chief Executive of relationship charity Relate, Aidan Jones OBE, was also in support of the reform: “This much-needed change to the law is good news for divorcing couples and particularly for any children involved. The outdated fault-based divorce system led parting couples to apportion blame, often resulting in increased animosity and making it harder for ex-partners to develop positive relationships as co-parents.
“As a large body of evidence shows, parental conflict is damaging to children’s wellbeing and chances in life, whether the parents are together or separated. It’s good that the government has listened and taken action on this, demonstrating commitment to reducing parental conflict.”
As part of the new legislation, couples will no longer need to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ to prove the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage, or assign blame to one or other party. Couples may make a joint application for divorce, or initiate the process independently, and the ability to contest a divorce will be removed entirely to ensure that no one is forced to stay within an unhappy marriage. Couples will then be given a timeframe of six months from petition stage to final divorce in order to have time to reflect and consider their decision, access additional relationship support or mediation if necessary, and make suitable arrangements for any children involved.
For more information on divorce, separation, and what the new legislation might mean for your circumstances, get in touch with the family lawyers at Frances Lindsay & Co. We already offer a range of additional out-of-court options to help minimise animosity under current family law, such as mediation, collaborative family law, and arbitration, keeping couples’ and children’s well-being at the heart of the process.