The government’s proposals to reform divorce law are a welcome and long awaited change.
The prospect of a ‘no fault divorce’ means that couples will finally be allowed to end their marriages without unnecessary family conflict being built in to the process. This will allow them to harness the emotional and financial advantages which flow from a non confrontational approach.
There has long been disparity between the collaborative approach to divorce championed by family lawyers and organisations such as Resolution, and our antiquated divorce laws which pit parties against each other and force them to ascribe blame to each other (if they wish to get divorce without waiting for 2 years), leaving them and their families to suffer the emotional fallout.
Currently, if divorcing couples choose to be conscientious objectors in the legal battleground and want to divorce on a ‘no fault ‘ basis , they find themselves subjected to an unacceptably long wait before they can bring their marriage to an end and move on with their lives.
This issue was brought to national prominence in the Owens v Owens case in 2018 in which the Supreme Court were forced to reject the wife’s appeal for divorce after her husband refused. Baroness Hale decried the current law as “unjust” and called for wholescale reform. The case was exceptional, but also widely relatable and it touched on the long and painful process endured by divorcing spouses.
Over 100,000 couples divorce in England and Wales each year and the most common fact relied on by couples in their divorce petitions is ‘unreasonable behaviour’. However a recent UK wide survey shows only 29% of respondents to a fault divorce said that the fact used closely resembled the actual reason for separation (Comres2015). In selecting a ‘fact’, couples are faced with having to make unnecessary, unhelpful and even unsubstantiated accusations against their ex partner, rather than trying to move on from relationship breakdown constructively. This is not the fault of couples, but the antiquated laws which they have to engage with.
Attention should also be paid to the profound impact that conflict between parents can have on their children. Research shows that 1 in 4 children say that their parents have tried to involve them in a divorce dispute. There is also a wealth of evidence which show that this type of conflict leads to poor outcomes for children, including statistics showing a propensity for children with divorcing parents turning to alcohol or drug use (Resolution, Comres2015).
Marriage breakdown is complicated and painful enough without the legal process exacerbating the issues and requiring parties to enter into a ‘blame game’. It is vital that the law is reformed to remove need to find ‘fault’ between spouses and we welcome the government’s commitment to legislate and create a fairer system for all.
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