No fault divorce is to become a reality after legislation has been announced to overhaul divorce law in the UK.
This really is a momentous announcement for the campaign groups and professional bodies who have campaigned for decades to remove the requirement for divorcing couples to assign blame.
The sad reality is that the ‘blame game’ fuels acrimonious separations, harming both parties, and causing terrible damage to children who have the misfortune of finding themselves tangled up in parental disputes.
Current law requires couples to prove that their marriage has broken down irretrievably and produce evidence of unreasonable behaviour or years of separation, even when both parties have made a mutual decision to separate.
Evidence of one or more of five facts must be produced; three of which are based on ‘fault’: adultery, behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation (if the spouse consents to the divorce) and five years’ separation otherwise.
The new law will:
- Introduce a statement of irretrievable breakdown to replace the requirement to provide evidence about unreasonable behaviour.
- Create the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process.
- Remove the ability to contest a divorce. Few divorces are actually contested and the practice can be misused by abusers who use it as a tactic to continue their coercive and controlling behaviour.
- Introduce a minimum timeframe of six months from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; six weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute). This timeframe is intended to provide a meaningful period of reflection. Where divorce is inevitable, it will give couples time to reach agreement on practical arrangements for the future.
These reforms have been a long time coming but will be warmly welcomed by family law solicitors who see the negative impact divorce has on children and families on a daily basis and the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass) who voiced their support for no-fault divorce during the government consultation.
The new legislation demonstrates a sensible approach to modernising divorce law in the UK, combining what works well now with practical ways of resolving difficulties more amicably.
The new legislation is expected to be introduced to Parliament ‘as soon as time allows’.