Family lawyers have campaigned for years for changes to the existing legal structure for divorce in the hope of reducing the stress and conflict that almost always accompanies a marriage breakdown. As things stand today, couples have to wait for two years before they can issue a divorce petition if they do not want to make allegations about behaviour or adultery.
Since 1973, the law in England and Wales has required people to be pitted against each other by making what can often be deeply personal allegations about their spouses to get a divorce. In 2018, Tini Owen’s high-profile case brought to public attention a long-running debate around divorce law. She wanted to divorce her husband of 40 years because she was “desperately unhappy” – but he disagreed with what she said in her petition. The law stated she could only obtain a divorce by living apart from him for five years. The Supreme Court rejected her appeal.
Official records show that out of every 5 divorce petitions over the last 3 years, close to three rely on allegations about behaviour and 2 on separation facts. Between 2016-18, the behaviour fact accounted for nearly half of all petitions (46.4%, or 47.1% when combined with adultery petitions). In 2018, 118,000 people petitioned for divorce in England and Wales.
However, on 8th June 2020 MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new bill designed to remove the need to apportion blame in a divorce petition.
The planned changes to the law would mean:
- The need to provide evidence of separation or behaviour would be removed – all that would be required is a statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down
- There will only be very limited circumstances in which a divorce petition could be argued against
- Couples could make a joint application so that one does not have to “attack” the other by issuing a divorce petition
- The old fashioned language will be updated so that a “decree nisi” will become a “conditional order” and a “decree absolute” will become a “final order”
The overall time it takes to get divorced should also reduce, even though it will still be a two-stage process. In theory, it could take as little as 26 weeks from start to finish.
Margaret Heathcote, chair of Resolution, a professional organisation that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family law, said: “No fault divorce will ensure more families can come to long-lasting, amicable and constructive agreements which benefit everyone involved, particularly children.”
It remains unclear how quickly the law will now change but the highly experienced and responsive family solicitors at Farnfields Solicitors LLP are happy to advise you on all your options.
As mediators and collaborative lawyers, we are committed to low conflict outcomes and see these changes as positive for our clients, particularly as we see many cases where children feel that they are the cause of their parents’ separation. The introduction of “no fault” divorce should significantly improve outcomes for these children. This has been reflected by Justice Secretary David Gauke, who has said: “Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.”