No fault-divorce may be on the horizon

Legally reviewed by: Shakeela Bi In: Family

On 8 June the government’s bill introducing no-fault divorce in England and Wales moved a step closer, following a debate and vote in the House of Commons. It has already received the approval of the House of Lords.

A 2019 YouGov poll showed 73% of the public were in favour of reforms to divorce law, and a separate YouGov poll commissioned by Resolution showed that 71% of the public felt that no-fault divorce was needed to protect the long-term interests of children.

Currently, in order to commence divorce proceedings immediately, a spouse must allege that adultery or unreasonable behaviour has taken place. This has often led to a dangerous and harmful ‘blame game’ taking place. This blame game makes it more difficult for separating couples to come to an agreement about finances and/or child arrangements, and can increase levels of acrimony. Additional levels of tension with a divorcing couple results in a resultant negative impact on any children of the family. According to a leading study by the Nuffield Foundation, in collaboration with the University of Exeter, 43% of those identified by their spouse as at fault for the breakdown of the marriage disagreed with the reasons cited in the divorce petition.

Under the proposed Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, this will change, and a party seeking a divorce will simply be required to state that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

The new law also looks set to remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce. Under the present law, it is possible for one spouse to defend a divorce petition lodged under one of the ‘blame’ grounds, which can potentially keep the other spouse locked into a marriage against their wishes until the 5 years separation ground becomes available to them. The bill has debated the right of an individual to put on record the fact that they do not want a divorce, and it remains to be seen whether this will be included as a formal amendment to the new law.

Challenges to divorce proceedings will still be permissible, for example in cases of coercion or fraud. According to research carried out by the Nuffield Foundation, fewer than 2% of divorces are currently contested.

There will also be a new mutual-application option, for couples who wish to jointly apply for a divorce. Under the current law, the mutual consent divorce requires couples to have been separated for a minimum of two years. Many couples do not wish, or simply cannot afford to place their lives on hold for such a length of time.

Archaic terminology is also set to be updated: for ‘petition’, ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’, now read ‘applicant’, ‘conditional order’ and ‘final order’.

It is proposed that there be a minimum of 6 months between the lodging of the petition and the final order. This is a safeguarding measure, designed to allow couples time for reflection, and for the opportunity to turn back.

Our specialist Family Lawyers at Cartwright King are keeping a watchful eye on the course of these proposed amendments, and will be able to advise you accordingly as soon as any amendments are made into law.

Cartwright King has lawyers in many areas of law, and this has been written by Family lawyer Simeon Bowen-Fanstone.

For specialist advice in any of our areas of law, please email your enquiry.

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All advice is correct at time of publication.