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The Government will come under increasing pressure to introduce ‘No Fault Divorce’ today (Wednesday 30 November), as 150 family lawyers come to Parliament to meet with MPs and Peers on the subject.
The major lobby of Parliament is being organised by Resolution, who represent 6,500 family justice professionals who are committed to supporting couples to reach non-confrontational resolutions to family disputes. The organisation says that the current legal requirements often result in one of the couple having to attribute fault even when they don’t want to, leading to unnecessary hostility and arguments.
Resolution’s call for no fault divorce is supported by, among others, the most senior family judge in the country; the deputy president of the Supreme Court; the Family Mediation Task Force, and Relate. The topic was also the focus of a recent House of Commons Library briefing paper.
In a recent survey of family justice professionals carried out by Resolution, over 90% said that divorce law needs to be modernised to allow for no fault divorce. As well as no fault divorce being a better option for separating couples, family lawyers also predicted that a change in legislation would see a rise in the use of mediation and lead to a reduction in the amount of court time spent dealing with children or financial issues relating to divorce.
Nigel Shepherd, National Chair of Resolution, said:
'It is clear that current divorce law is not fit for today’s modern society.
Divorce is already difficult enough, we don’t need it being made harder by the law pushing couples into conflicts and arguments.
The results from this survey are overwhelming. These are family lawyers on the frontline, working with separating couples every day and they quite clearly believe that allowing for no fault divorce would be a positive option. For so many to descend on Parliament to lobby MPs and Peers shows that it is time for politicians to act, and bring an end to the blame game.'
Resolution say the current law comes as a shock to many separating couples, who enter divorce proceedings unaware that, unless they attribute blame, they will have to wait at least two years to legally end their relationship.
Suzy Prince, a writer based in Manchester, recently divorced from her partner of 14 years, and felt that her only choice was to cite 'unreasonable behaviour' on their divorce forms. She said:
'Our split was almost entirely amicable, once we decided to part, right up to the point where we had to legally apportion blame in order to be able to divorce. My husband did behave unreasonably at times as the relationship broke down, but so did I. He could have also filed against me, but that would have meant an appearance in court, for the judge to decide who behaved the most unreasonably, and we both felt that this was a bridge too far.
You have to cite examples of the other person's bad behaviour, so it dredged up a lot of unpleasant memories and issues at a time when we were trying our utmost to keep things on an even keel for ourselves and our children.
Why on earth can't there be an irreconcilable differences option in this country? If we could have just had the dignity of a no fault divorce I think it would have helped a lot to soothe this painful experience.'
The blame game
Over three quarters of the family lawyers who took part in the survey agreed that their clients struggle to understand why they have to assign blame on the petition, especially if they've both agreed to separate. The situation however doesn’t appear to affect a couple’s decision to separate. About 60% of divorces cite adultery or unreasonable behaviour as grounds for separation. However, according to Resolution members, this is not necessarily because either party specifically wants to blame the other, but because the family want to achieve financial certainty and/or cannot afford to put their lives on hold.
Indeed, the vast majority of members surveyed (91.9%) said they often see separating couples choosing to cite unreasonable behaviour or adultery in order to avoid having to wait two years.
Nigel Shepherd said:
'It’s an unnecessarily complex and confusing system, but what’s clear is that if a couple wants to separate they do so. It is often claimed that allowing for no fault divorce would lead to an increase in separation because the legal proceedings would become easier. This survey rubbishes this theory.
Barely any couples decide not to proceed with their divorce once they learn about the current process - instead they are forced to play a "blame game" and negotiate a system that requires one person to say it is the other’s fault. This often ends up with issues about their finances or children being resolved in court at great expense to them, emotionally and financially, and to the taxpayer.
“At a time when Government is trying to reduce conflict in separation, and help more couples resolve disputes without going to court, it seems odd that they haven’t yet consigned the need to assign blame to the history books. If Ministers are to achieve their objectives, and be successful in future ventures such as the proposed move to an online divorce process, the introduction of no fault divorce is a no brainer.'