The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, has announced that “no fault” divorce will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time becomes available to consider a new Bill. The proposed changes will bring an end to the “blame game” culture which exists under our existing law.
Under our existing law, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, one party is required to prove their partner is at fault due to adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour. Alternatively, if both parties agree, they can divorce after living separately for two years. If there is no evidence of fault and no agreement, parties may have to wait until they have been living separately for five years before they are able to divorce.
A recent Supreme Court case, Owens and Owens, raised publicity to support the increasing call for no fault divorce to be introduced in this country. In that case it was ruled that the wife would have to wait until she had been living separately from her husband for five years before she was able to obtain a divorce, as she was not able to prove any of the fault based grounds and her husband would not agree.
The new Bill will extend the grounds for divorce by replacing the need for evidence of adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour with a requirement for a statement of irretrievable breakdown. Further proposed changes will be the option for a joint application for divorce and the introduction of a minimum six month timeframe for the proceedings, to allow couples to reflect on their decision.
The changes will be welcomed by those who have long recognised that the current system causes unnecessary hostility in families at a time when emotions are usually already running high. Removing fault from the situation should enable parties to concentrate on the more important issues following a separation, such as the arrangements for the children and how to resolve the matrimonial finances.