The law is set to change for divorcing couples. The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, recently confirmed that the government will introduce legislation to reform our, somewhat archaic, fault-based divorce law. Legislation will be introduced during the next Parliamentary session.
Many would say “about time too!”.
What is current UK divorce law?
At present, anyone wanting a divorce has to demonstrate that the marriage has irretrievably broken down (the only legal ground to obtain a divorce) by proving that one of five facts exists. Three involve waiting until you have lived apart for at least two years, possibly five.
Anyone seeking a divorce within two years of separating has to prove fault. This is either:
their spouse has committed adultery, or
their spouse has behaved in such a manner that they cannot reasonably be expected to live with their spouse.
According to the latest report by the Office for National Statistics, the most common reason for couples divorcing in 2017 was unreasonable behaviour. However, as 68 year old Tini Owens learnt to her cost, proving unreasonable behaviour is not always straightforward. Her husband, Mr Owens, unusually, chose to defend Mrs Owens’ divorce petition.
In July 2018, the Supreme Court decided that Mrs Owens could not divorce her husband until she had lived apart from him for a five year period (they separated in 2015). This was because she could not demonstrate that her husband’s behaviour was such that, taking into account Mrs Owens’ own particular sensitivities and nature, she could not reasonably be expected to live with Mr Owens.
At the time, many family law specialists, having picked themselves up off the floor, expressed concern. Resolution, the organisation of family lawyers committed to taking the heat out of the divorce process, warned of a “divorce crisis”. It called on politicians from all backgrounds to reform what they called, outdated laws.
Divorce law consultation
It appears that, after a consultation, which is said to have demonstrated that there was “overwhelming support for change”, the government has finally acknowledged that reform is long overdue.
In fact, no-fault divorce was first introduced by the Family Law Act 1996. However, the provisions were later declared unworkable and it was repealed. There has remained wide support amongst Judges, lawyers, and many who provide support for those going through a family breakdown for the system to be reformed.
We await with interest the detail. However, it appears that, at long last, there is real appetite for the introduction of a less acrimonious divorce process.
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