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End of the blame game – introducing a “no fault” divorce

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24th April 2019

The Justice Secretary announced new reforms to divorce law on 9 April 2019, this aims to usher in a more civilised system, reducing the time it takes to get a divorce and avoid unnecessary acrimony between couples.

It will remove the requirement for couples to blame each other for the breakdown of the marriage.

How does this affect you?

Under the current law one party must allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour by the other in order for a divorce to start straight away. The blame game greatly increases the stress and tension and exposes children to the damaging impact of ongoing conflict between their parents both during the divorce and afterwards.

The majority of divorcing couples are amicable and seek to end their marriage swiftly, the reform shall assist in doing just that. The current system works counter to the prospect of future reconciliation and can cause damage to children by undermining the relationship between parents after divorce, in particular when co-parenting.

What are the changes?

  • It will introduce a minimum time frame of 6 months from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute). At present where there is no justification for a divorce, couples must wait a 2 year period before they apply if the other party consents and in circumstances where the other party disagrees the couple must live apart for at least 5 years before the court agrees to end their marriage.
  • The reform will create the option of couple’s submitting a joint application for divorce to speed up the process where the decision is amicable and mutual.
  • It will aid those individuals stuck in unhappy marriages with controlling partners who contest their divorce application and refuse to agree to a divorce.

This situation was painfully illustrated by the case of Owens v Owens. Mr Owens disputed the 27 allegations of “unreasonable behaviour” brought against him by his wife. Mrs Owens’ divorce petition was rejected by the High Court and the Court of Appeal, where she was told that her husband’s behaviour was to be “expected in a marriage” and that “parliament has decreed that it is not a ground for divorce that you find yourself in a wretchedly unhappy marriage”.

  • Many people may find themselves stuck in similar positions to Mrs Owens and the new reform will remove the ability for a spouse to contest a divorce.
  • The irretrievable breakdown of a marriage will remain as the sole ground for divorce and the reform will mean it is no longer necessary to provide a ‘fact’ around the irretrievable breakdown. Consequently removing the need to list various reasons (the blame game) justifying your need for a divorce.
  • The two-stage legal process; decree nisi and decree absolute will be retained.
  • Parallel changes will be made to the law governing the dissolution of a civil partnership which broadly mirrors the legal process for obtaining a divorce.

It should be noted

  • The divorce will not be automatic at a fixed date at the end of the minimum timeframe, but will require the applicant to continue to affirm their decision to seek a divorce. This keeps the important safeguards of the existing process.
  • The proposed legislation will not cover other areas of matrimonial law such as financial provision. Financial provision on divorce is handled in separate proceedings and the court has wide discretion to provide for future financial needs.

The current process for ending a marriage is often demeaning and agonisingly slow. Where divorce is inevitable, it will better enable couples to reach agreement on practical arrangements for the future. The new law has been widely welcomed by clients and lawyers.

The reforms are to be put in place as soon as possible when parliamentary time allows. We shall keep you posted on the implementation of the reform.

Talk to us 

In the meanwhile should you need no-nonsense, clear advice about Divorce, Financial settlement or any other matters relating to Family and  Matrimonial Law, call our dedicated family experts on 01273 324041.

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