Justice Secretary David Gauke has confirmed that an option for no-fault divorce will be introduced into family law, removing the need for couples to assign blame in order to separate. Legislation to enact the reform is due to be brought to the next session of parliament, with the potential to reduce animosity between separating couples, avoid protracted court battles, and offer a faster, cheaper, and more positive method of divorce.
Under current UK family law, the cause for divorce must be allocated to one party, based on a ‘fact’ such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour, or couples must live separately for two to five years. For many, however, neither of these options is fair nor viable. The act of assigning blame is antagonistic and only serves to increase conflict within an already difficult situation, often causing couples to disagree more vehemently and leading to delays and increased costs on both sides. Or there may not be any obvious ‘fault’, leading to many couples deciding to lie or embellish the truth in order to speed up the process. Living apart for an extended period of time may also not be possible when money is tied up in property or separate living arrangements are unaffordable. These issues have been raised again and again by family law professionals and organisations like Resolution, who have long been campaigning for #ABetterWay to divorce via a no-fault option.
The case for no-fault divorce was highlighted most recently in the case of Tini Owens, who was refused an appeal for divorce based on the fact that she was ‘trapped’ in an unhappy marriage. According to existing divorce law, Owens must now wait five years to be granted a divorce without the consent of her husband.
In 2018 the Justice Secretary launched a consultation into the reform and responses from the family law community were ‘overwhelmingly in support’. Existing legislation is based on 50-year-old law that is deemed by many as outdated, potentially damaging to couples and their children, and in desperate need for reform.
In contrast, plans for the new approach to no-fault divorce offer couples the chance to truly make a fresh start without the separation process devolving into a battle. By removing blame and its associated conflict, couples should be able to foster better communication, cooperation, and forge a path to positive co-parenting after separation. For those who feel trapped within a loveless marriage, no-fault divorce provides a simpler and more dignified way to move forward, without having to wait for up to five years or create an antagonistic environment by portioning blame where there may be none.
Former Chair of Resolution Nigel Shepherd responded to the news, saying: “Our members, and the families they work with, will be delighted that, after years of campaigning, we are now so close to ending the ‘blame game’ that many divorcing couples are currently forced to play.”
Family lawyer and Resolution member Frances Lindsay also commented, “For more than twenty years, family lawyers have been trying to keep the heat out of the fire that can be divorce, particularly where the petition is based on Behaviour. We have kept the facts bland and just enough for district judge to accept. The case of Owens v Owens has turned back the clock and we are now having to include some very harsh allegations. The case for no fault divorce is clear. We should not have to start a divorce by ‘bashing’ the other party – particularly where children are concerned. It makes it very hard to come back from and to create an atmosphere where parents can co-parent successfully and recover from the trauma of divorce.”
Mr Gauke stated his intention to bring forward legislation “at the earliest opportunity”, which is likely to be in the new parliamentary year in May.
For more information on divorce and how the reform may affect the separation process, get in touch with the family lawyers at Frances Lindsay & Co.