No Fault Divorce – A Much Needed Change


The Law Of…Achieving A No Fault Divorce

The current divorce system in the UK is one that has the potential to create unneeded animosity in divorce cases by forcing divorcees to blame one another. A “No Fault Divorce” process could be exactly what the system needs to avoid unnecessary hostility.

Jane Auty, Family Law Associate, provides the Simpson Millar view on how the current system can benefit from a No Fault Divorce.

No Fault Divorce – An End To The Blame Game?

The March 2017 Court of Appeals’ decision highlights the desperate need for reform in divorce law. The answer to these reforms is the introduction of a No-fault system.

The present divorce law in England & Wales does not permit a couple to get a divorce without blame, unless they have been separated for at least 2 years. Divorce can be a time of conflict, heartache and emotional turmoil. Couples are under significant pressures to sort out financial positions, minimise the impact of separation on their children and come to terms with the ending of their marriage. 

Waiting 2 years for a divorce prolongs these processes and their suffering, meaning that to get a divorce more quickly, they will have to place blame. 

Is Blaming Really The Best Policy?

By forcing couples to state who is to blame for the divorce, needless hostility is added to an already sensitive process.

In the case of Timi Owens, who was the subject of the March 2017 Court of Appeals Case, she sought to overturn the refusal of her divorce application. Mrs Owens alleged that the marriage broke down as a result of her husband's unreasonable behaviour. The husband denied these claims and stated the problems they faced were routine in any marriage.

The Judge agreed, and rejected Mrs Owens petition, stating that the difficulties were "minor altercations of a kind to be expected in a marriage".

This decision and statue generally, is very much at odds with modern practice. Resolution, the national association of Family Lawyers, is dedicated to adopting a non-contentious and constructive approach to family disputes and has, for many years, campaigned for the introduction of No-fault divorce.

The need for blame in divorce proceedings can sour the rest of the process, making it more difficult to make arrangements in an amicable way. In the Case of the Owens, the need for blame creates the risk of the separation becoming more confrontational.

How Close Are We To A No-fault Divorce System?

Momentum towards No-fault Divorce has steadily been building for the past few decades.

In 1996 the Government tried to introduce No-fault divorce, but the legislation was repealed in 2001 after requirements were placed on the parties to attend “information meetings” to encourage reconciliation proved unworkable. 

In 2015 Richard Bacon MP introduced a Private Member’s bill proposing a No-fault divorce with a one year cooling off period, but it failed to get a second reading. Perhaps the reason behind the Government’s reluctance to embrace change relates to the notion of undermining the sanctity of marriage and the making it too easy to bring the relationship to an end. 

Other countries such as America, The Netherlands and Spain allow couples to divorce without apportioning blame. In 2006, Scotland introduced a No-fault divorce system. Whilst the divorce rate initially rose, it is now continuing to fall, suggesting a lack of evidence to support an increase in the divorce rate. 

The reality of the modern world is that couples will separate, and so it is important to remove any unnecessary hurdles from the process.

Governments have encouraged couples to engage in mediation to resolve their differences out of Court, but this is made more difficult when there is the need to start the process with one party blaming the other. 

Resolution And The Campaign For No-fault

Campaigns by Resolution have focussed on a need for a new divorce procedure, where one or both spouses can give notice that their marriage has broken down irretrievably. The divorce could be finalised after 6 months, if neither spouse still felt they were making the right decision. 

The campaign for No-fault divorce has been strengthened by recent calls from Sir Paul Coleridge, Chairman of the Marriage Foundation and Lord Wilson of Culworth as Supreme Court Justice. They are the latest in a long line of senior figures, including the President of the Family Division, who has urged the Government to introduce No-fault divorce. 

The public is also in favour of this; a YouGov poll published in March 2017 found that 69% supported the principle of removing the blame from the divorce process. The research showed that No-fault divorce is supported by people of all genders, age, religion and income brackets. 

Significantly, 69% of Conservative voters and 70% of Labour voters backed the changed.  This may make both politicians and policy makers take note of the views of the voting public.

Jane Comments:
"There is no justification for the government refusing to change the requirement for couples to start the process of divorce by blaming the other for the breakdown in the relationship. It is time to end this and introduce no fault divorce."

Even an amicable divorce can be a stressful and confusing ordeal. It is vital to seek out legal guidance before proceeding with any kind of separation proceeding. Simpson Millar is home to a specialist Divorce Legal team. Contact one of our solicitors today either by our Freephone number, or using our online enquiry form.

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