The biggest change in divorce law in 50 years has been announced, with legislation for ‘no fault’ divorce to be introduced as soon as parliamentary time becomes available. It is hoped the change will allow couples to split faster, and hopefully, with less acrimony.
No fault divorce - how the divorce rules will change
Under current law, one spouse must cite adultery or unreasonable behaviour by their partner for divorce proceedings to begin straight away. Otherwise, couples have to be separated for either two years, if there is consent, or five years, with or without consent, before they can divorce.
However, this change to the law will mean couples only have to state that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, without having to give any detailed reasons, or lay the blame for its breakdown at the feet of either spouse.
It also means that one partner can no longer refuse a divorce if the other wants one. This will stop cases like Owens vs Owens from occurring, where the Supreme Court rejected a woman’s appeal for a divorce after her husband refused to agree to the split.
End of the blame game
No fault divorce will help ensure that a marriage breakdown can remain more amicable. Under the current system, family lawyers regularly have to ask the couple if one of them is prepared to take all the blame for the divorce. This is unfair to couples seeking to remain amicable, and inevitably gets the divorce process off to a bad start, encouraging denigration, and ensuring unnecessary and unhelpful accusations against former partners are enshrined in the divorce petition.
The divorce process is difficult and stressful enough without the inclusion of accusations of fault and blame being thrown into the mix. Ironically, it is also the point in the marriage separation when it’s most important that couples get along, especially if children are involved and parents are trying to maintain stability for them while ending their marriage.
The move to change the divorce process comes following a public consultation, which revealed widespread support for the change, and the legislation for no fault divorce is expected to be introduced into Parliament within the next three months. The new rules will also include a minimum divorce timeframe of six months from petition to final dissolution of the marriage, to provide a period of reflection, giving those who may have acted in haste time to reconsider.
This new law is part of an ongoing modernisation of the divorce process that has also seen divorce applications made available online. Bringing this law into the 21st century, so that it more accurately reflects the society we live in, is long overdue, and is something that family lawyers and campaign groups, such as Resolution, a national organisation committed to non-confrontational divorce, have spent decades fighting for. With this reform, we are taking another important step towards ensuring the divorce process is fit for purpose.
If you are considering a divorce and would like to understand how these new plans and the no fault divorce could affect the process, please contact our Family Team.
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