Today, the Government has confirmed what the divorce law reforms in England and Wales will look like, stating that the new rules will be implemented as soon as possible. This follows an announcement last year that divorce law would be overhauled to allow couples to get divorced without one person having to point blame at the other.
We look at the implications of these reforms and explain how 'no fault' divorce will work in England and Wales.
Current Divorce Law in England and Wales
In order to be granted a divorce in England or Wales, the Court needs to be convinced that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, to a point where it cannot be saved.
Under current laws, unless a couple lives separately for 2 years or more they will only be able to get a divorce if one person blames the other for this irretrievable breakdown of their marriage. Furthermore, this reason must fall into the category of either adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
These blame-based options are two of 5 legally recognised reasons for the breakdown of a marriage under current laws. The others are:
- desertion (where one person has deserted the other for 2 years or more without explanation)
- 2 years' separation (provided both people consent to the divorce)
- 5 years' separation (without consent)
What this means is that, unless a couple has been separated for at least 2 years, one person must document examples of the other's behaviour during the marriage, and present this as evidence to the Court. The Court will then determine whether they believe this behaviour has resulted in the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
The No Fault Divorce Debate
No Fault Divorce first came onto the political agenda back in 2015, when Conservative MP Richard Bacon presented the House of Commons with the No Fault Divorce Bill. Since then, campaigners have been pushing for UK divorce law to be overhauled, so that couples can be granted a divorce purely on the basis that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, without the need to lay blame on one person.
On one side of the debate was the argument that the fault-based system can make a previously amicable split quickly turn sour, raising tensions under already stressful circumstances. Some felt that this could damage relations between the couple beyond repair, which has been highlighted as a particularly serious issue where children are involved.
Some high-profile individuals have voiced their support for no fault divorce, including Baroness Hale (President of the Supreme Court) and Sir James Munby (President of the Family Division of the High Court).
On the other side of the debate, some felt that making the divorce process simpler could be damaging to the sanctity of marriage. There is a worry that if divorce is quicker and easier, couples may opt for this as an easy option without first trying to save their marriage.
For more information on the arguments for and against no fault divorce, see No Fault Divorce Pros and Cons.
What the New Divorce Laws Will Look Like
After a lengthy review, the Government has now confirmed what the reforms to divorce law in England and Wales will look like, and how no fault divorce will work. Here is a breakdown of the most significant changes...
1. Divorce can be granted without one person blaming the other
The most important element of the reform is, of course, the removal of blame from the divorce process. Under the new laws, couples will be able to get divorced solely on the basis that the marriage has broken down, without needing to cite one of the 5 reasons for divorce (as is currently required).
2. Couples will be able to apply for divorce jointly
Under current laws, one person needs to issue the divorce proceedings against the other, but the Government has confirmed that under the reforms, both people will be able to make the application jointly.
3. Minimum of 6 months between application and divorce becoming final
A minimum timeframe of 6 months has been introduced to counter concerns that the reforms will make divorce a quicker and easier option for couples than trying to save their marriage. This is being described as a 'period of reflection,' giving couples an opportunity to reflect and work through their differences before committing to a divorce.
4. People will no longer be able to contest divorce if their spouse wants one
Under the current system of fault-based divorce, one person will submit a divorce petition to the Court, citing their spouse's behaviour as the reason for the divorce, and their spouse then has an opportunity to respond and contest this if they wish. This is exactly what has happened in the high-profile divorce case of Tini and Hugh Owens. Under the new no fault divorce system, this option will be removed.
Justice Secretary, David Gauke, said that the new laws which will, "Help end the blame game," will be introduced, "When parliamentary time allows," stressing that this would be as soon as possible.
Comment from Co-op's Head of Family Law - Tracey Moloney
″We welcome the government's plans to overhaul existing divorce laws. Divorce is an incredibly personal process that brings with it unique challenges and the current legal system doesn't always account for that.
''Outdated laws have meant that divorce often becomes a conflicted ordeal, exasperating the breakdown of relationships between those involved. These changes will ensure that families are fully supported and are able to navigate their way around what can be a very complicated process, removing stress at what is already a very difficult time.''