The Justice Secretary David Gauke has pledged that the government will introduce legislation to introduce “no fault” divorce and end the “blame game” in marital breakdown as “soon as parliamentary time allows”.
The new legislation, which is based on the results of a public consultation, would establish a minimum six-month timeframe to enable couples to “reflect” on their decision and also abolish the ability to contest a divorce.
The current need to establish that one party is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour would be replaced by a requirement for a statement of irretrievable breakdown.
Announcing the development, Gauke stated:
“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While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.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.”
“The news that no-fault divorce will become a reality and divorce laws will be changed for the first time in fifty years will be considered a welcome move by both the public and the family law community which has been campaigning for this for many years. Taking unnecessary conflict out of the process will undoubtedly benefit divorcing couples and their children.
However, there is one area of family law in particular that requires far more urgent reform: cohabitation. At the end of the day no-fault divorce modifies an existing law – cohabitees, the fastest-growing household type, have no law whatsoever protecting them or structuring proceedings upon relationship breakdown or death. The Law Commission reported in 2007 with recommendations for reform that have been ignored by successive governments. No-fault divorce is a move which while welcome, is not something which is going to hugely benefit those facing financial hardship such as cohabitants, and that is where the focus should be now.”
Joanne Radcliff, partner in the family law team at independent legal practice Brabners, said:
“Countries including America, South Africa and many European nations already practice a ‘no-fault’ divorce option so the British legal system – despite its progressive outlook – could be accused of dragging its heels on the issue.
Family lawyers have been campaigning for the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce for years, it’s unlikely that this change will lead to a massive spike in marital breaks ups. The process of ending a relationship is clearly evolving and, instead, the move will allow for more amicable and respectful divorces.
We’re seeing a growing number of couples looking for alternative ways of resolving the issues around finances and children that result from separation – mediation, arbitration and collaborative law now being preferred over court proceedings – and it’s right that the legal structures around divorce are moving to get up to speed with that view.”