Currently in the UK, a no fault divorce is not possible. This means to obtain a quick and easy divorce, the separating partners must allocate blame to one another. However over the years it has been shown that couples do not like this aspect of the process and can create further needless acrimony.
Current Divorce Law Rules
At present, people seeking divorce in England must demonstrate that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. In order for the court to uphold the divorce, one of the following reasons must be cited:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Separation for more than 2 years
- Separation for at least 5 years
The first three reasons are clearly fault based. In order to speed up the process and to get the court to grant the divorce, couples frequently resort to claims of adultery or unreasonable behaviour. The result is that the allocation of blame has become inherent to many divorce procedure, making it difficult to finalise the relationship in an amicable way. It is hoped that the introduction of no fault divorce will solve this problem
UK Family Law : An Opportunity Missed
It is over 20 years since Parliament, by a large Commons majority, passed a bill that allowed for no-fault divorce. If passed into law, the provision contained within the bill would have made the divorce process quicker and easier. However, in 2001 and based on the subsequent pilot scheme data, the Government decided that the provisions for no fault divorce were ultimately unworkable, causing the bill to be repealed.
Since then, there have been calls among the Judiciary and other interested groups to make the appropriate changes to family law to allow no blame divorce. According to the Government’s own online December 2017 Briefing Paper, research studies from organisations such as the Family Mediation Task Force and The Nuffield Foundation support these change. However, there is also opposition: for example The Coalition for Marriage believes that no fault divorce would be a disaster for marriage in general. Their objections are based on the idea that no fault divorce would be easier to obtain and thereby reduce the status of marriage by trivialising it and reducing it to that of a tenancy contract.
Is The Times Campaign Beginning To Bear Fruit?
In February 2017, the Government indicated that they had no plans to alter the family law pertaining to divorce. There followed a debate in November 2017, after which the junior Justice Minister said that the Government would study the evidence but would not hurry to form any conclusions on the matter.
Then, towards the end of last year, The Times, together with the Marriage Foundation, started a campaign entitled ‘Family Matters’. The aim of this campaign was to modernise family law, and in particular the current legislation pertaining to divorce. The campaign was particularly concerned with the need for Government to change the law to allow no fault divorce, ‘for the sake of children and spouses locked in loveless marriages, and for the institution of marriage itself’ . Resolution, an association of over 6,000 family lawyers was reported by The Times as saying, ‘It is great to see The Times launch this campaign for much needed reform of divorce and other family law. It reflects much of our own concerns and manifesto, especially on no fault divorce and cohabitation’.
As a direct result of The Times campaign, the Justice Secretary David Gauke announced this month that he will consider the issue and look at changing the law. He was quoted in ‘Politics Home’ as saying, ‘I know The Times has campaigned vigorously for reform of family law, including fault-based divorce, and a number of respected figures have voiced their support for change. I acknowledge the strength of feeling on this issue and will study the evidence for change’.
No-Fault Divorce In Other Countries
If Gauke does move towards a change in the law, he would just be bringing UK family law in line with the divorce laws of other countries. The 1986 Amended Divorce Act of Canada, the 1950 Chinese New Marriage Law and the Australian Family Law Act of 1975 all offer provision for a no fault divorce. Other countries which provide this option include Russian, Spain and the USA. Instead of lagging behind the rest of the world, perhaps now is the time for the UK Government to take the required steps to modernise and move on.
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