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An end to the blame game? No fault divorce law ‘coming soon’

The BBC reported that divorce laws in England and Wales will be overhauled so that couples can divorce more quickly with less acrimony. Many believe the current system exacerbates the stress and tension couples experience on divorce and exposes children to damaging conflict.

Under the current law if a couple wishes to divorce now, rather than waiting for a minimum of two years separation they have to rely on either the adultery or unreasonable behaviour of the other person to evidence the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. These facts are considered ‘fault based’ i.e. they seek to apportion blame to the other spouse as the reason for the breakdown in the marriage. It is widely considered that these facts do not help people move on with their lives and should be consigned to legal history.

Various organisations including Resolution and Relate have been campaigning for years for a change in the law, which has remained the same for the past 50 years. The government acknowledged over 20 years ago that reforms were needed, but legislation faltered.

The call for change follows the Supreme Court’s unanimous rejection of Tini Owens appeal for divorce,meaning that the couple must remain married until 2020. Baroness Hale, the UK’s most senior judge has repeatedly called for the current divorce law to be overhauled describing it as “unjust”.

Following a 12 week public consultation which evidenced widespread support for no-fault divorce, new legislation is going to be introduced which will require divorcing couples to produce a statement to confirm that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, it will create the option for a joint divorce and it will stop one spouse refusing a divorce if the other spouse wants one. David Gauke MP Justice Secretary has said “the changes will help end the blame game”.

Under the new proposals there will be a minimum period of 6 months from the date of the divorce petition to decree absolute to allow the parties a meaningful period of reflection and the opportunity to turn back, as some couples may reconcile within this cooling off period. At the end of the 6 month period the applicant will be required to affirm their decision to seek a divorce before it is granted. This is longer than the period provided for under the current law, which is 6 weeks and 1 day from the date of decree nisi to decree absolute.

The government have said the new legislation will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows, so when is it likely to be introduced? The government is currently paralysed by Brexit but David Gauke MP has said “we’re entering into a new parliamentary year shortly, we’re hoping to make progress as quickly as possible but we need to get the legislation drafted, signed off and agreed. I am hoping it will be dealt with fairly swiftly as there is cross party support and, I suspect, support in the House of Commons for it”.

The reform to the current law is long overdue, and we welcome an end to spouses having to apportion blame if they wish to divorce.

Contributor: Weightmans