Dawn Pennell, of Capron & Helliwell solicitors, considers divorce law reform
The Government has announced that, subject to consultation, it is its intention to reform the legal requirement for divorce shifting the focus from blame and recrimination to support adults better to focus on making arrangements for their own futures and for their children.
At present divorcing couples need to demonstrate that their marriage has irretrievably broken down and are forced to blame each other for the marriage breakdown by saying that their spouse has behaved unreasonably, has committed adultery or deserted them unless they prove that they have lived apart for two years with the other’s consent or five years without that consent.
The proposed reform would remove the need for couples to allege fault in order to obtain a divorce. Ministers want to reduce the antagonism of citing fault and the anxiety it creates. The BBC quotes the Justice Secretary David Gauke as saying “We think that the blame game that currently exists helps nobody. It creates unnecessary antagonism and anxiety at an already trying time for couples.”
Any change is unlikely to be welcomed by all and some will, no doubt, feel it could undermine the institution of marriage by making it too easy for couples to divorce. Others may feel strongly that they should be able to record that their spouse is responsible for their marriage breaking down. However, perhaps the time is now finally right to allow couples who are no longer compatible to divorce with dignity, recognising that, sometimes, there is nobody to blame allowing couples to move more easily forward following a divorce which is especially important when children are involved.
The consultation opened on 15th September 2018, closes on 10th December 2018 with a response to the consultation exercise due to be published by 8th March 2019. However, I am old enough to remember Baroness Hale first introducing the concept of a “no-fault” style divorce more than twenty years ago. I attended training for the anticipated changes but, in the event, it did not make it on to the Statute book with MPs rejecting the idea. So, it is with caution that I say is the “blame game” about to end? We will have to wait and see what next year brings.
Dawn Pennell is a Chartered Legal Executive and Collaborative Lawyer dealing with family law matters at Capron & Helliwell.
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