No-Fault Divorce on the Horizon

No-Fault Divorce on the Horizon

Posted by Jason Barlow, on June 12, 2020. Tags: ,

MPs have voted favour of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill following its second reading on Monday, 8 June 2020.

Referred to as the “No-Fault Divorce Bill”, it will bring about a significant change in the way in which divorce can occur. While this article focuses on the divorce process, changes are also being proposed in respect of civil partnerships and judicial separations.

The “Facts”

At the moment, in order to start divorce proceedings, one person (the Petitioner) needs to confirm the marriage has broken down irretrievably. This is done by citing 1 of 5 “facts”, namely:

  1. Unreasonable behaviour;
  2. Adultery (if admitted);
  3. Separation for 2 years (with consent);
  4. Separation for 5 years; or
  5. Desertion.

Recently, the divorce procedure has come under increased scrutiny following the case of Owens v Owens in the Supreme Court in May 2018 (Judgment 2018). Mrs Owens was unable to dissolve her marriage because she had not lived separately from her husband for the requisite period and he would not agree to a divorce.

A common criticism of the current law is that unless both parties are happy to wait for 2 years or 5 years, which may not be practicable or advisable, one person will need to “blame” the divorce on the other. This does not necessarily lead to conflict yet there has been an ongoing debate as to whether the law, as it stands, makes the process too adversarial.

Changes

The No-Fault Divorce Bill is targeted primarily at removing the need to prove one of the above facts. Instead, either or both of the divorcing parties can acknowledge the marriage has irretrievably broken down by way of a statement without attributing the breakdown to the other’s behaviour.

The ability to object to a divorce is also removed in the No-Fault Divorce Bill except in cases of fraud and/or coercion. By comparison, at the moment, if one party to the marriage wishes to divorce without the agreement of the other, they would have to wait 5 years.

A minimum period of 26 weeks between issuing the divorce petition and finalising the divorce has also been set out in the proposed Bill, which seems set to make significant changes to the family law landscape in 2020.

What does this mean?

There are still a number of stages for the No-Fault Divorce Bill to go through before making its way into law. Next is the Committee Stage in the House of Commons which is due to take place on 17 June 2020. No commencement date for the Bill has been set.

If and when it does come into effect, it is anticipated that the Bill will put an end to the “blame game” aspect of divorce. Divorce proceedings started after the commencement date can petition for divorce solely on the basis that marriage has broken down irretrievably. Until then, the divorce procedure remains unchanged. 

For more information on any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Spratt Endicott’s Family Law Team on 01295 204000 or email enquiries@se-law.co.uk.

 *Disclaimer: While everything has been done to ensure the accuracy of the contents of this article, it is a general guide only. It is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be sought in relation to the particular facts of a given situation.