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End to blame game?

11 Feb 2019

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it seems only natural to provide a legal update about divorce. That being said, the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, has now confirmed that legislation will be brought into the next session of parliament enacting no-fault divorce.

It is hoped that the proposed reform will remove the fault-based element, and help promote a more non-confrontational approach to divorce in the future.

Currently, the law seemingly aggravates a blame game, promoting finger-pointing and encouraging a he said, she said approach to proceedings.

Current Law

It has been the position for nearly 50 years that, under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, a party seeking a divorce has to prove that their marriage has irretrievably broken down by satisfying one of five “facts”:

  • Adultery;
  • Unreasonable behaviour;
  • Desertion;
  • Two years separation with the consent of the Respondent; or
  • Five years separation without consent.

Whilst only the first three are fault-based, the facts have attracted criticism over recent years and are seen by many as archaic; creating unnecessary conflict between parties who will no doubt already be going through a stressful and emotional chapter in their lives. If a couple cannot rely on a fault-based fact then the law states they will have to wait years until they can apply for a divorce, thereby prolonging the process.

Tom Bridge

A consultation to reform the law snowballed significantly following the case of Owens v Owens [2018] UKSC 41 last summer in which the Supreme Court ruled that simple unhappiness was not a valid ground for divorce.

The decision attracted widespread criticism and it has since been argued that a party to a divorce should not have to prove blame; instead, a married couple should be allowed to divorce simply because, for example, they have fallen out of love or their relationship has come to an end.

There has been overwhelming support for a change to the law following the decision in Owens and the news will no doubt be welcomed with open-arms by many practitioners who have been campaigning for a change to the law.

It is hoped that the ability to apply for a no-fault divorce will help spare parties the emotional stress and pressure of finding blame to satisfy an unreasonable behaviour divorce petition in the future. Whilst this will not remove the emotional difficulties associated with divorce, it is hoped that the process will become less confrontational and more straightforward.

For more information on any of the above, or how we can help you, please contact Nicola Matthews, or call 0191 232 8345