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No Fault Divorce: A fundamental change to family law.

No Fault Divorce: A fundamental change to family law.

The Government has today announced that the law relating to divorce will change to introduce no fault divorce.

Since the Matrimonial Causes Act was passed in 1973, a spouse who wanted a divorce had to prove that the other spouse had committed adultery, or had behaved unreasonably, unless the couple had lived apart for at least two years.  However, this need to attribute fault has often created more animosity between separating couples than otherwise might be the case. This angst is particularly damaging when children are involved. 

A twelve-week public consultation which took place at the end of 2018 reported that the overwhelming view expressed by those who contributed, was that the law needed to change. The Government has now listened to these calls for reform and it is hoped that this will have an impact on reducing conflict between parents with children and divorcing couples generally.

Proposals for changes to the divorce law include: -

  • Retaining the irretrievable breakdown of marriage as the sole grounds for divorce.
  • Replacing the requirement to provide evidence of fact around behavioural separation with the requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown.
  • Retaining the two-stage legal processes currently referred to as Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute.
  • Creating the option of a joint application for divorce alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process.
  • Removing the ability to contest a divorce.
  • Introducing a minimum time frame of six months from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to Decree Nisi; six weeks from Decree Nisi to Decree Absolute). 

Taking the step to begin divorce proceedings is a huge issue for many couples. Presently, this is heightened due to the formality that is required to ‘entitle’ a person to justify the divorce. The debate as to whether divorce should be an easy process or should be an absolute last resort, is a matter for further discussion. However, the Government’s Justice Secretary David Gauke has acknowledged that it is no longer acceptable to live with “outdated law” that creates conflict between divorcing couples.

Under the present law, we see that couples, effectively, have to blame one another for causing the break up even if their respective positions are relatively amicable. Whilst this does, in some cases, allow time to potentially reconcile differences, the reality of the situation is that it puts off the inevitable, creates animosity and conflict. Sometimes people end up living in a state of limbo until they can get past the two-year point. This can impact on relationships with children involved, finances and the mental wellbeing of all involved.

As well as the removal of fault, one of the major effects of the new legislation is the inability for a spouse to oppose a divorce, if they object to it.  The recent, high-profile case between Mr & Mrs Owens, when Mrs Owens wished to divorce her husband and he objected, highlighted the inadequacies of the current law.  Under the new law, Mrs Owens would be able to file for divorce on the basis that her marriage had irretrievably broken down and Mr Owens would not be able to oppose it. 

Whilst this is significant it will not be relevant to a large number of cases as very few divorce cases are ever defended.

It has been suggested that the new law will make divorce easier to obtain.  However, there is little, if any, evidence to suggest that the difficulty or otherwise of the divorce process is a factor that prevents those who consider that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, from starting the divorce process.  Rather, the Government hopes that the law will retain those parts which work well now, whilst replacing those less relevant, which often stand in the way of resolving other difficulties more amicably when a marriage has irretrievably broken down.

The introduction of no-fault divorce (abolishing the ability to contest a divorce), subject to a 6-month reflection period may reduce some of this anxiety and uncertainty in what is often a painful situation. David Gauke has promised that this legislation will be introduced just as soon as parliamentary time becomes available.

James Haworth, our Head of Family Law at Lawson-West remarks, “Whether one agrees with a no-fault approach or not, the needs of the individuals concerned, particularly the children are paramount. Therefore, minimising the opportunity for conflict will hopefully encourage a resolution between the parties”.

At Lawson-West, we put your needs and the needs of the children first in any matter such as this. Seeking a resolution is our primary goal. With a structured agreement and suitable arrangements, we look to provide a framework for a separating couple to reach a reasonable outcome.

If you or someone you know is considering their options or going through a relationship breakdown, we will help to untangle the issues and provide a solution which creates a better future going forward.

 Why use Lawson-West Solicitors Family Law Team?

  • An initial no-obligation appointment to find out the costs, process and procedures involved.
  • Offices in Leicester, Wigston and Market Harborough
  • We offer fixed fee divorces and monthly bills, so you can control your finances at this difficult time. We provide a clear estimate of costs upfront and provide regular updates so that, if the price is likely to increase for a valid reason, you understand why and have the chance to agree to us continuing with proceedings. Each case is assessed individually to ensure that our clients get the best value for money, as well as the best advice for their circumstances.
  • Resolution is an association of Family Law professionals which aims to assist separating or divorcing couples to reduce anxiety and expense. We are members of Resolution and will work to reduce contention and hostility to help families move to a different life structure with minimum pain and trauma.

If you would like to speak to someone, in confidence, about your matrimonial situation, in the first instance, please contact our family law department on 0116 212 1000 or by email: jhaworth@lawson-west.co.uk.

This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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