Further Calls for No Fault Divorce in the UK

27 March 2018

There have been further calls for a no fault divorce option to be introduced to UK law. This time, from senior Family Judge Sir James Munby, who says that divorce law is, “very badly in need of reform.”

Under current law in England and Wales, a divorce can only be granted if it can be proven that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Furthermore, the breakdown of the marriage will need to be attributed to one of the following 5 legally recognised causes:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable Behaviour
  • Desertion
  • 2 Years Separation (with consent from both sides)
  • 5 Years Separation (not requiring consent from both sides).

This means that unless the couple have been separated for some time, one person will need to blame the other for the breakdown of their marriage.

For more information see Grounds for Divorce – Choosing the Right One.

The No Fault Divorce Debate

Sir James Munby is a senior Family Judge and he is also President of the Family Division of the High Court in England and Wales. His calls for no fault divorce to be introduced into UK law echo calls that have been made by other prominent figures who are also campaigning for reform. One of the most notable of these figures is Baroness Hale of Richmond, who publicly voiced her support for no fault divorce last year. Baroness Hale is the President of the Supreme Court; which is the highest Court in the UK.

This latest development continues the debate on whether or not a “no fault divorce” approach in the UK would be a positive or a negative step. Some argue that this could ease some of the stress and pain of divorce, which can be made worse by one person dredging up and documenting evidence of the other’s behaviour. Others feel that making the divorce process easier could be damaging to the sanctity of marriage.

For commentary on both sides of the no fault divorce debate, see our article No Fault Divorce Pros and Cons.

Why Does Sir James Munby Support No Fault Divorce?

Sir James Munby feels that the law should be changed to help those, “trapped in a loveless marriage.” This has come after he was unable to grant a divorce in a high profile case where a woman is seeking to divorce her husband, describing herself as a “locked in” wife in a “loveless and unhappy marriage.”

The Case of a Wife Trapped in a Loveless Marriage

In this high profile case, Tini Owens wants to divorce her husband of 39 years, Hugh Owens. She filed for divorce in May 2015, citing Unreasonable Behaviour as the reason for the breakdown of the marriage. Mr Owens chose to defend the divorce, disputing the allegation of unreasonable behaviour and denying that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Some examples of Mr Owens’ unreasonable behaviour that Mrs Owens provided to the Court included him prioritising work over home life, his mood swings causing frequent arguments, a lack of love, attention or affection being displayed and unpleasant remarks being made about Mrs Owens in front of their family and friends.

The Court heard that as a result of this behaviour, the couple had not shared a bedroom for many years and Mrs Owens had eventually moved into rented accommodation shortly before filing for divorce.

The judge ruled that the examples given of Mr Owens’ behaviour were not sufficient to have caused irretrievable breakdown of their marriage. He refused to grant the divorce on this basis.

Mrs Owens appealed the decision, which is when the case came before Sir James Munby. In response to the appeal, Sir Munby upheld the original decision, refusing to grant the divorce.

In a lecture to Law students at the University of Edinburgh, he explained the reasons for this decision. He said that although Mrs Owens considered herself to be trapped in a loveless marriage (which he noted was “with some justification”) she had failed to prove the grounds on which the marriage had broken down. Under the current law in England and Wales, it’s simply not possible to grant a divorce without this.

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