It has been confirmed that divorce law in the UK will be overhauled, with 'no fault' divorce becoming an option for couples. This will end the requirement for one person to be held at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, which the law currently requires in order for the Court to grant a divorce.
Under the current system, one person in the marriage has to be blamed for the breakdown of the relationship, unless the couple have lived separately for 2 or more years.
This system has been labelled as "archaic" with some claiming that the requirement to lay blame on one person can turn an amicable separation into a sour and bitter feud.
To divorce without any period of separation, one of three legally recognised reasons, or 'facts' for divorce must be cited:
- Unreasonable behaviour
The person seeking the divorce (the Petitioner) has to outline how the behaviour of their spouse (the Respondent) has led to an irretrievable breakdown of their marriage. They cannot cite their own behaviour as the reason for the split.
The Respondent then has the opportunity to see what has been said about them and to respond to this. If they disagree with the allegations then they can contest the divorce. If an agreement cannot be reached then the couple may have to go to Court, where it may be necessary to dredge up evidence of one another's behaviour in front of the judges.
It has been claimed that this process can cause unnecessary stress and sour relations further between the couple. As such, there have recently been a number of calls by high profile individuals for no fault divorce to be introduced into UK law. For more information on the debate up to this point, see our previous articles "No Fault Divorce Pros and Cons" and "Further Calls for No Fault Divorce in the UK."
Proposed Changes to Divorce Law
The Government is now responding with proposed changes to divorce law which will reform the way in which couples can be granted a divorce. There will be a 12 week consultation taking place on the proposal, which suggests:
- Removing the need for couples to live separately before divorcing
- Removing the need to provide evidence of a spouse's behaviour
- Removing the opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce
Any changes that are brought into law will apply to both marriages and civil partnerships.
The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, acknowledged that the current laws around divorce are out of touch with modern life. He highlighted the need for reform commenting that, "It cannot be right that the law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples."
The proposed changes are still in their early stages, and there is still a way to go before any changes are made to the law.
Trapped in a Loveless Marriage
The divorce case of Tini and Hugh Owens has been at the very heart of the No Fault Divorce debate. Tini wants a divorce from her husband of 40 years, Hugh. She cited his unreasonable behaviour as the reason for the breakdown of their marriage, but Hugh contested the divorce, claiming that the couple can work through their differences.
Tini was required to provide evidence of her husband's unreasonable behaviour before the Court, however the judges found that Mr Owen's behaviour wasn't enough to cause the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
Unless her husband consents to the divorce, Tini will now have to wait until they have lived separately for 5 years before divorcing on the basis of 5 years' separation.
One of the judges who denied Mrs Owens her divorce is Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division of the High Court in England and Wales. While he sympathised with Mrs Owen's situation, he said that under the current law of England and Wales he simply was not able to grant her a divorce from her husband.