Divorcing couples will no longer have to blame each other for the breakdown of their marriage as the Justice Secretary David Gauke announced on the 9 April 2019. The changes are expected to reduce family conflict.
The existing 50 year old divorce laws have been shown to exacerbate conflict between the parties involved. The Justice Secretary said “hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances. While we always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples. I have listened to cause for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame game for good”.
Current divorce law requires people seeking divorce to give evidence of one or more of five facts, three of which are based on “fault” and two are based instead on a period of separation. The five facts are:-
Adultery, Behaviour, Desertion, 2 year separation (if the other spouse consents to the divorce) and 5 years separation (otherwise).
Proposals for changes to the law include the following:-
In announcing the changes to the divorce laws the Ministry of Justice state “these reforms retain what works well in existing divorce law and remove what stands in the way of resolving difficulties more amicably when a marriage has irretrievably broken down and requires an orderly, legal ending. The new legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows”.
In a footnote the Ministry points out that between 2016/2018, the behaviour fact accounted for nearly half of all petitions issued. The ability to contest a divorce is rarely used (in less than 2% of cases). Under proposed changes, all divorce applications could still be challenged on the basis of jurisdiction, the legal validity of the marriage, fraud or coercion and procedural compliance.
The proposed changes have been widely welcomed however as was expected some religious groups have objected to the reform. Andrea Williams, the Chief Executive of Christian Concern, described no fault divorce as “no reason” divorce. Christian Concern maintains that the reform will mean that “one partner can impose divorce on the other”. Sir Paul Coleridge the former High Court Family Judge who founded the marriage foundation rejected the concerns of religious groups pointing out that “the present laws keep people in dead marriages for longer than is emotionally healthy”. He added “the concern at this reform will lead to upsurge in divorces totally misplaced and unsupported by past experience. The new process in fact will slow the process down, give couples a chance to make sensible arrangements for themselves and their children without having to indulge in bogus and pointless name calling at a peculiarly fraught time in their lives”.
We must now wait and see when the new laws will be passed and to what effect if any this will have upon the society in which we live.
If you wish to contact our Matrimonial department we would be happy to assist with all aspects of divorce, separation, finances and child care arrangements.
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