Today will see 150 family lawyers travel to Westminster to meet with their MP in a campaign for no fault divorce. The campaign is run by Resolution, a 6,500 strong organisation that believes in a non-confrontational approach to family law. So what is meant by no fault divorce and why is this so important?
As unfortunately many of you will know from experience, divorce is common in the UK with almost half of all marriages ending this way. Could this be because many people no longer see marriage as lifetime commitment? I’d like to think not, but the fact is divorce is on the rise which means it’s a process many people will experience in their lives.
When couples do decide to split up, they are often keen to have a quick divorce and settlement of finances to avoid the emotional and financial strain. With more marriages ending in our modern society, the spotlight has been on the way couples can divorce. Current divorce law is set out in legislation dating back to 1973 and at present there is only one ground for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This may sound amicable enough – and it would be, were it not for the fact that this ground for divorce has to be supported by one of 5 “facts”.
If a couple wants to divorce immediately following the breakdown of their marriage then the available facts are either one party’s adultery or one party’s unreasonable behaviour (apart from civil partners wishing to dissolve their marriage who cannot cite adultery due to the legal definition of adultery). This means that at present the only means to an immediate divorce is to cite examples of one party’s unreasonable behaviour or allege adultery. Those couples wanting a “no fault” divorce currently have to wait until they have been separated for 2 years – and this relies on both parties agreeing to that.
So what does this mean for those couples that want to get divorced as quickly as possible? Unfortunately, it can turn into a blame game with divorce petitions usually citing 3 to 4 examples of a partner’s unreasonable behaviour. While there may be some who would revel in the opportunity to tell their exes exactly why we want rid of them, the reality is that the current procedure which relies on one person’s fault can turn a relatively amicable relationship breakdown into something much nastier.
Today’s lobby of Parliament shows just how much widespread support has been growing for “no fault” divorce legislation to be passed, allowing couples to divorce immediately after their marriage has broken down without having to allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour in order to avoid having to wait for 2 years of separation. Any changes to the law would result in amendments being made to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004. This could allow couples to send a joint petition to the courts and proceed to the decree nisi stage quickly and efficiently.
Resolution chair Nigel Shepherd speaking at Resolution’s annual 2016 conference said “It’s wrong – and actually bordering on cruel – to say to couples: if you want to move on with your lives…one of you has to blame the other”. Resolution’s research has also shown that over 90% of family justice professionals agree that there needs to be a change to the law to modernise the divorce process.
It remains to be seen if and how things will change but the introduction of any significant change to the Matrimonial Causes Act is unlikely to take place for some time.
Ann Robinson, Paul Lancaster and Andrew Smith of Blacks are all members of Resolution and support constructive solutions to divorce.