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Government plans for ‘no-fault’ divorce

October 2018

David Gauke – UK Parliament official portraits 2017
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Marriages will be broken up more quickly and easily if government plans get the go-ahead following an announcement to consult on new proposals in England and Wales. Critics say the move would further ‘trivialise marriage’, but the government says it would make splits less acrimonious.

The consultation will, among other things, consider the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce — a divorce in which the dissolution of a marriage does not require a showing of wrongdoing by either party.

Under the current law in England and Wales, when you apply for a divorce you must prove your marriage has broken down because of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion; or you can apply for a divorce if you have lived apart for two years and you both agree to a divorce; or you can apply for a divorce if you have lived apart for five years, even if your spouse disagrees.

Reconciliation

Every year a large number of people use the time afforded by the process to change their minds. Typically, this means over 10,000 divorces are dropped per year. Of course, not all of these couples will be finally reconciled, but it shows that people are dropping divorce proceedings in very large numbers.

Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said, ‘Society has an interest in trying to keep marriages together. No-fault divorce is pushing that in the wrong direction. Children do best when they live with both their married parents.

And he added, ‘Divorce puts children at the centre of the dispute between the divorcing spouses. There is also the sense of justice. Why shouldn’t a wife who has been faithful to a philandering husband be able to get a divorce on the grounds of adultery?’

Bureaucratic

Justice Secretary David Gauke said, ‘I don’t think the best way of helping the institution of marriage is by putting bureaucratic hurdles in the way of a divorce’. And he said he was ‘increasingly persuaded’ about changing the law.

Speaking in the House of Lords, government minister Lady Vere said, ‘The government are looking extremely closely at ways to reduce conflict in divorce, whether that be no fault, financial provisions or enforceable nuptial agreements’. She added, ‘I very much hope that the noble Lords will see progress in the near future’.

The Labour Party is ‘fully committed’ to the introduction of no-fault divorce. Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said, ‘Instead of yet another consultation, the Conservatives should get on with changing our divorce laws so that they are fit for the 21st century’.

Undermining

Clive Coleman, the BBC’s legal correspondent said, ‘The Ministry of Justice will seek to end the right of spouses to contest a divorce, and also consult on how long the parties need to wait before becoming entitled to one, suggesting a minimum of six months.

‘Essentially, the government is proposing a notification system where, after a defined period, if one spouse still maintains the marriage has broken down irretrievably, they become entitled to a divorce.

‘There will be some who fear such a system will undermine marriage, but many believe it could remove a layer of stress and anxiety from one of life’s most traumatic experiences’.

In July, the Supreme Court ruled against a woman who wants to divorce her husband against his will on the grounds that she is unhappy. Tini Owens, 68, wanted the court to allow her to split from her husband of 40 years immediately despite not being able to prove any fault on his part.

Mr Owens does not want to divorce. In their ruling, judges said Mrs Owens should remain married to Mr Owens until 2020, upholding the five-year separation rule.