09/04/2019
Justice Secretary confirms "No Fault Divorce" to be introduced. The end of the blame-game?

Georgina McCluskey comments on today's announcement by David Gauke

 

The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, has announced today that the widely anticipated “no-fault divorce” is going to be introduced, and soon (subject to finding parliamentary time).

The current position

Currently, in England and Wales, a marriage or civil partnership can only be dissolved on the basis that it has broken down irretrievably. One of 5 facts must be cited in support of this: adultery and unreasonable behaviour being the most commonly used in the absence of a long period of separation.  These facts both involve an element of blame.

Should the other party not accept the allegations made against them, it is, under current laws, possible to fight an application for divorce.   This was the focus of the widely reported case Owens v Owens which saw Mrs Owens having to wait 5 years to divorce her husband, that being the only fact that did not require Mr Owens’ agreement.

Why the need for change?

Owens v Owens flagged one problem with the current system:  Mrs Owens was forced to stay in an unhappy marriage for 5 years because Mr Owens did not also want a divorce. 

The other problem?  Having to list 5 or 6 examples of your partner’s “unreasonable behaviour” to get divorce proceedings underway means that matters rarely start on the most amicable footing. Whilst it has become common practice to try and agree anodyne examples of behaviour, even this can cause unnecessary tension between parties from the offing. 

Should the other party then seek to deny the allegations, as Mr Owens’ did, a court may well find as they did in Owens that these anodyne particulars are not sufficient to end a marriage.

The reforms

Under the new arrangements as soon as one party initiates a divorce it cannot be stopped by the other party, and a split could happen within 6 months. Crucially, it will no longer be necessary to blame the other party as all that will be required is a statement of irretrievable breakdown.  It will also be possible to make a joint statement.  It is anticipated that these reforms could be introduced in as little as 3 months. 

Reaction

Whilst the overwhelming majority view these reforms as positive, if not, overdue, there are some who fear these changes will weaken the institution of marriage by making it easier to divorce.  The counter to that is that the current system does not prevent people from divorcing it just keeps them in marriages they do not want to be in for longer. Whatever your view these reforms mark the biggest change to divorce law in 50 years.

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