News & Insights

No fault divorce: the end of the blame game

Yvonne Dang examines the current grounds for divorce and the proposal to reform divorce law.

At the moment, a divorce can only be granted in the UK once a couple has been married for a year and it can be proved that their marriage has irretrievably broken down due to one of five grounds.

Grounds for divorce

  • Adultery and intolerable to live with the adulterer
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion for a continuous period of at least two years
  • Two years’ separation with consent
  • Five years’ separation without consent

The nature of the first three grounds is that effectively blame is apportioned to one individual and divorce proceedings can be delayed if the decision to split is an acrimonious one. On the other hand, the latter two grounds require a considerable amount of time to pass before a divorce is granted even if the decision to end the marriage is amicable.

A move towards blameless divorce

It has been recognised that the law on divorce needs change and the government took action by publishing a consultation paper in September 2018 titled “Reducing Family Conflict: Reform of the Legal Requirements for Divorce.” This paper highlighted that the legal process “can incentivise one party to make allegations about the other’s conduct” which can have a negative impact on children that are involved in the divorce process. The government accepted in this paper that “it is not in the interests of children, families and society to require people to justify their decision to divorce to the court.” Accordingly, the reform proposed was to move away from the current approach and allow couples to file for divorce without making it a legal requirement to allege fault on their spouse.

You can read more on the government response to the consultation on reform of the legal requirements for divorce here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/793642/reducing-family-conflict-consult-response.pdf 

What does this mean for divorces in the future?

It will take some time for the reform to be drafted and approved before it comes into effect especially since the proposals from the consultation paper include providing the option of a joint application, removing the opportunity to contest a divorce and introducing a minimum timeframe of six months from petition to decree absolute. However, a no-fault divorce will no doubt assist couples who have made a considered decision to end their marriage. In particular, it is envisaged that divorce proceedings will be easier to initiate and there will be less strain and conflict for those involved.

If you are contemplating a divorce or have any questions on the above, please contact our Family Team for an initial conversation as we can discuss alternative dispute resolution to explore and help with the divorce process if needed.