No-fault divorce to become law in the UK
The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, announced on the 8th February that no-fault divorces will be introduced into law. This follows on from a consultation that was launched at the end of last year to propose changes to the law, amid calls from campaigners to end the ‘blame-game’ and modernise divorce law in England and Wales, which has not changed since 1973.
Divorce law today
Currently in England and Wales, in order to apply for divorce, the person petitioning must cite one of the following five reasons to show that their marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’:
- Unreasonable behaviour (such as spending too much time at work or with friends, or for more serious reasons such as domestic abuse, drug use or alcoholism)
- Desertion (your spouse has left you without your agreement, without good reason and with the intention to end the relationship for at least 2 years in the past 2.5 years)
- Separation for at least 2 years (if both you and your spouse agree in writing and you have been living apart for more than 2 years)
- Separation for at least 5 years (if you and your spouse have been living apart for more than 5 years, regardless if your spouse agrees to the divorce or not)
However, for many separating couples where there is no evidence of fault, they have no choice but to lay blame on one person, even if there is none.
Also, if the divorce is defended by the other person, it can leave people in situations where they have to stay married and live apart for at least 5 years before being granted a divorce, such as in the famous Owens vs Owens case. Inevitably this can cause conflict and tension, which campaigners have argued can leave people feeling trapped and affect their mental health.
What does no-fault divorce mean?
The new legislation will allow couples to divorce without placing blame on either party for the breakdown of their marriage. This could potentially reduce conflict and lead to a rise in divorcing couples using mediation, inevitably reducing the need for lengthy and costly court battles. This would benefit couples with children in particular, both financially and emotionally.
Nigel Shepherd, former Chair of Resolution (an organisation that advocates a constructive and non-confrontational approach to family law), welcomed the news, saying: ‘Our members, and the families they work with, will be delighted that, after years of campaigning, we are now so close to ending the ‘blame game’ that many divorcing couples are currently forced to play’.
Justice Secretary David Gauke has committed to pushing the legislation through in the next session of Parliament which begins in May.
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