Today, the Justice Secretary, the Rt Hon David Gauke MP, pledged to end the “blame game” in marital breakdowns, and to introduce "no-fault" divorce. Parallel changes would be made to the law governing the dissolution of a civil partnership.
Currently, the limited set of grounds for divorce under the existing Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 requires an applicant to either prove their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour, or if both sides agree, they can part after two years of separation. In the absence of consent or evidence of fault, applicants should wait until they have been living apart for five years.
In our experience, it is this concept of "fault" that often fuels the fires of conflict, leading to bitterness, upset, resentment and more, and when children are involved, can have long-running consequences which impact the ability of separated or divorced couples to co-parent decently, and fairly.
Spouses will be able to submit a “statement of irretrievable breakdown” to apply for divorce under the proposed new laws. There will also be the option for a joint application for divorce. Irretrievable breakdown of a marriage will remain as the sole ground for divorce. (For more on the current grounds for divorce, check out Nicola Wilburn-Shaw's recent blog post.)
No more contested divorces
The changes to the existing divorce laws in England and Wales, to be introduced as soon as parliamentary time becomes available, would establish a minimum six-month timeframe (the six-week gap from decree nisi to decree absolute remaining in place) to enable couples to “reflect” on their decision and also abolish the ability to contest a divorce.
While accounting for under 2% of the approximately 120,000 divorces triggered each year, the MoJ said the practice is known to be misused by abusers to continue coercive and controlling behaviour.
David Gauke said: “Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.
“While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples. So I have listened to calls for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame game for good.”