‘No fault’ reforms set to mark new era for divorce law in England and Wales

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Following years of campaigning by members of the public and the legal profession, the government has taken a major step to introduce ‘no fault’ divorce in England and Wales.

In a move that has received widespread support, legislation has been tabled by Justice Secretary David Gauke to change the much-maligned system currently in place. The proposals make provision for a couple to be allowed to apply for a divorce on the basis that their marriage has broken down irretrievably. Any attempt to block a divorce by one spouse against the wishes of the other will be prevented by law.

Currently, unless grounds of adultery or unreasonable behaviour apply, couples must be separated for two years before being granted divorce, or for a five-year period if one spouse opposes the divorce. These rules will be replaced by the requirement for couples to engage in a minimum six-month reflection period, with the opportunity to seek reconciliation, before the divorce is finalised. Couples will also be permitted to apply jointly for divorce.

It is hoped that the measures will reduce the number of acrimonious divorce cases heard by the Courts and, in particular, lessen the impact on any children experiencing the separation of their parents. The new approach will also be more in line with dispute resolution measures, such as mediation, which are encouraged by the wider family justice system.

Last year, we focused on the Supreme Court case of Tini Owens who sought a divorce from her husband. Because Mr Owens refused to agree to the divorce, the court held that the five-year separation rule should apply and, consequently, the divorce cannot be granted until 2020.

The imminent overhaul of the law in England and Wales is to be welcomed. It will bring a long-awaited end to such cases and stop divorcing couples being exposed to unnecessarily confrontational and prolonged legal proceedings.