Is a no-fault divorce going to be introduced in 2019?Pepperells
Will 2019 be the year we see an end to the blame game when it comes to divorce? At the end of 2018, it was announced by the Government that it is committed to helping couples divorce more amicably.
Currently, the person who starts proceedings must prove that the marriage has irretrievably broke down by establishing one of the five facts:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- 2 years separation with consent
- 5 years separation (no consent required)
The government have proposed a consultation with the consideration of:
- Retaining the sole ground of divorce as the irretrievable break down of marriage
- Removing the need to provide evidence of the other spouse’s conduct, or a period of living apart.
- Introducing a new notification process where one or possibly both spouses can notify the court of the intention to divorce.
- Removing the opportunity for the other side to contest the divorce application.
The governments response is due to be provided by March 2019 so is very active right now.
No-fault divorce would have been introduced in a 1996 Act of Parliament requiring spouses to attend “information meetings” to encourage reconciliation, but following pilot schemes, the government decided it was unworkable.
There has been increasing pressure from campaign groups and divorce lawyers who have been pressing for the system to be modernised. They argue that the current adversarial system forces couples to blame one another if they wish to speed up divorce.
Responding to reports that the government intended to launch a consultation, Nigel Shepherd, a former chair of the family law organisation Resolution, said: “Today’s news has the potential to be a landmark moment for divorce law in England and Wales. For far too long, couples have been forced into needless acrimony and conflict in order to satisfy an outdated legal requirement.”
Justice Secretary David Gauke has also acknowledged that the argument for reform is “strong” and is expected to launch a public debate on proposals to modernise legislation that has not been changed for 50 years. He also added “I don’t think the best way of helping the institution of marriage is by putting bureaucratic hurdles in the way of divorce.”
Demands for change have stemmed from the Tini Owens Case. Tini Owens, 68, from Worcestershire, wanted to divorce her husband of 40 years on the grounds she is unhappy. Her husband Hugh has refused the split and the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the appeal, meaning she must remain married until 2020.
Christina Blacklaws, the president of the Law Society, said: “Making couples attribute fault in order to end their marriage can escalate the differences between them in an already charged situation. We welcome news the Ministry of Justice is to consult on proposals to update the divorce law
So, what does the Ministry of Justice have in mind to replace the current law on the grounds for divorce?
The Ministry of Justice will seek to end the right of spouses to contest a divorce, and also consult on how long the parties need to wait before becoming entitled to one, suggesting a minimum of six months.
Essentially, the government is proposing a notification system where, after a defined period, if one spouse still maintains the marriage has broken down irretrievably, they become entitled to a divorce.
There will be some who fear such a system will undermine marriage, but many believe it could remove a layer of stress and anxiety from one of life’s most traumatic experiences.
Overall, it has been expressed by many experts including the Law Society president Christina Blacklaws that “ It is time to bring this law into the 21st century to reflect the society we live in and we look forward to working with government to ensure the reforms are fit for purpose.”