No fault divorce – helping end the “blame game”

Current grounds for divorce in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland state that a couple who apply for a divorce must first prove their marriage has broken down irreversibly. To establish this ground at least one out of the “five facts” must be satisfied, these are: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion for at least two years, two years separation with consent or five years separation (2018).

However, these 50 year-old-laws may soon be changed. In April 2019 the government announced to remove this “fault-based” divorce system which relies on one spouse blaming the other for the break down in their marriage. These changes will instead allow couples to divorce by writing a statement explaining that the marriage has irreversibly broken down. A six month minimum time period will then be set up to ensure that no rushed decisions are made. This time period must elapse between the lodging of a petition to the divorce being made final (2019).

These proposed changes follow the recent case of Owens v Owens [2017], where the Supreme Court rejected a women’s appeal for divorce after her spouse did not consent for her plea to split. Owen’s grounds for her divorce were deemed insufficient resulting in the couple having to remain married until 2020.

Understandably, many couples do not want their life put on hold for 2 years, as divorce can be difficult and traumatic. Often divorces are catalysts for additional proceedings regarding finances, the home, or how to minimise the impact on the children as much as possible, without the need to assign who is to blame for the breakdown of the marriage. This “blame culture” can exacerbate a more conflicting and emotional environment for the whole family.

Due to this, these new legal proposals are much welcomed by those involved in family law, with the hope that it may result in the development of more healthy relationships between ex-parents after the divorce. It has been stated that these changes should also reduce costs, prevent delays in the separation process, and allow couples to part separate ways with dignity and without ascribing blame (2018).

Until then, practitioners and clients are eager to welcome this long overdue reform in the foreseeable future. We have a family law legal aid contract to help all our clients navigate these complications of family law proceedings and also offer a free 20 minute appointments for anyone who needs help.

Olivia Mann
Student Intern

References:

1. The Supreme Court. (2017). Owens (Appellant) v Owens (Respondent). [online]. Available at:
2. https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2017-0077.html.

3. McGrath, T. (2018). Owens v Owens: Has the time finally come for a ‘no-fault divorce’ system? [online] Available at: https://www.legalcheek.com/lc-journal-posts/owens-v-owens-has-the-time-finally-come-for-a-no-fault-divorce-system/

4. New Law Journal. (2018). No-fault divorce out for consultation. [online]. Available at: https://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/content/no-fault-divorce-out-consultation

5. Tobin, O. (2019). New divorce laws: 50-year-old UK legislation to be overhauled to end ‘blame game’ faced by separating couples. [online]. Available at: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/50yearold-divorce-laws-to-be-changed-to-stop-blame-game-a4112831.html.

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