News & Insights

Time to end the blame game – no fault divorce

A Summary of the proposed change to divorce law.

FSP’s Hannah Sims, a solicitor in our Family Team, reports on potentially the biggest change to divorce law since 1973, with plans for “no fault” divorce having moved a step closer after the government backed a proposed change in the law.

Presently, a divorce can only be granted if it can be shown that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. To show this currently, the person applying for the divorce (known as the ‘petitioner’) must establish one of the five grounds:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable Behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Two Years Separation (with consent of both parties)
  • Five Years Separation (without consent)

This has resulted in separating couples having to wait for at least two years to apply to divorce, if they don’t want to rely on one of the fault-based grounds, such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Even if the parties were to wait two years, if one party were not to agree to the divorce, this would leave the other person having to wait five years to apply for a divorce.

Criticisms of the current system are that it incentivises parties to raise allegations of the other person’s conduct, leading to increased tensions and further acrimony, which invariably doesn’t assist when the parties are often expected to co-parent their children following the breakdown of their marriage.

Calls for a change in the law became stronger following the widely reported case of Owens v Owens, whereby a judge felt that the wife had been unable to prove an irretrievable breakdown (in this case, the wife had sought to rely on the husband’s unreasonable behaviour), leaving her with no option other than to wait five years before she is able to apply for a divorce.

It is hoped that the changes in the law will reduce the conflict for separating couples in what is already a very distressing time for them.  This in turn will hopefully lead to more collaborate divorces, and less bitter and costly litigation.  Our experience at FSP is that the less acrimonious the divorce, the better the outcome for all concerned and our view, therefore, is that the proposed changes can only be good news.

However, reforms to the law are expected to take some time as no date has yet been announced for when the legislation will be introduced in Parliament.   Accordingly, if you are presently contemplating a divorce or have any queries regarding your divorce, please contact Sue Baker, the head of our family team, on 0118 951 6302 who will be pleased to discuss your matter with you.