On 9 April 2019, the Government announced its plans to introduce new legislation to overhaul divorce law.
The question of whether ‘no-fault divorce’ should be introduced has been debated for some time, and with increased vigour, since the well-publicised case of Mrs Owens. In 2017, Tini Owens petitioned her husband for a divorce on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour. However, the court refused her a divorce, stating that the behaviours were just examples of ‘minor altercations of the kind to be expected in a marriage’.
Currently, the only ground for divorce is that a marriage has broken down irretrievably, which then has to be proved in various ways. Couples are not automatically entitled to a divorce. The only option to divorce without blame is for couples to wait two years and then divorce by mutual consent. Otherwise, the fault-based reasons of adultery or unreasonable behaviour must be relied on. Unreasonable behaviour has consistently been the most common ground for those petitioning for more than 40 years.
The current fault-based system is thought to increase tension and create animosity during an already stressful time for couples. Whilst the wider family justice system attempts to help couples resolve issues as amicably as possible, it is felt that the divorce process only serves to make this more difficult by having to rely on fault and blame.
Following successful lobbying by solicitors and a long and dedicated campaign by Resolution (a body of family lawyers and other professionals committed to the constructive resolution of family law disputes), the Government has announced plans to introduce new legislation to remove the concept of fault in divorce. It is intended that the change will be implemented as soon as possible, when parliamentary time allows for this. The changes will also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.
Following the reform, it will be sufficient for a party to notify the court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. The facts, such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour will be removed. In a bid to reduce family conflict, the new system also plans to allow couples to jointly apply for a divorce and will remove the ability for a divorce to be contested.
The introduction of a ‘no-fault’ system is significant, being the biggest change in divorce law in more than 50 years. It is hoped that the change will help simplify the divorce process and crucially reduce conflict for divorcing couples, allowing them instead to focus on resolving important issues like children and finances.
At Thomson Snell & Passmore, we are committed to helping people constructively resolve family disputes and we hope that the planned legislative reform will further assist with this.