In a new survey of professionals by Resolution (First for Family Law), 9 out of 10 agreed the current law makes it harder for them to reduce conflict and confrontation between clients and their ex-spouses.
There is only one ground for divorce and that is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The Petitioner has to rely on one of 5 facts to proceed: unreasonable behavior, adultery, desertion, 2 years separation with the consent of both parties or 5 years separation.
In 2016, more than half of all divorce petitions were sent to the court based on adultery or unreasonable behaviour. This means that over 60,000 people “blamed” their ex-spouse for the breakdown of their relationship. It is highly likely though that a large proportion of these only issued divorce proceedings based on adultery or behavior out of necessity, as they were the only options available to them, which can inevitably up the ante.
Resolution has campaigned for no-fault divorce for many years. Support for reform of the law has recently been endorsed by the Marriage Foundation, Relate, the President of the Family Division and the new President of the Supreme Court, to name but a few.
The survey conducted by Resolution also found:
- 67% said the current law makes it harder for separated parents to reach an amicable agreement over arrangements for children.
- 80% believe the introduction of no-fault divorce would make it more likely for separated couples to reach an agreement out of court.
A decision of the landmark appeal case of Owens v Owens recently heard in the Supreme Court is eagerly awaited by many. The wife, Mrs Owens, in this case had been denied a divorce, on the grounds that her husband’s behaviour was not deemed ‘unreasonable’ enough for the purposes of the divorce petition. This Appeal is not about the Supreme Court changing the law or the concept of “no fault divorce”. The hearing is about the proper interpretation and application of the relevant law in this area.
An important function of the Supreme Court is to make sure that laws are interpreted in a way that takes into account current and social habits. Resolution has also been granted permission to intervene in the case on behalf of Mrs Owens, arguing that the current law can be applied in a way that allows her the divorce she is seeking. However, if Mrs Owens loses, she will in effect be trapped in a failed marriage until 2020, when she will be able to divorce, having been separated for five years.
Whatever the outcome, it does bring the spot light back onto the thorny issue of “blame”. It cannot be ignored that the Matrimonial Causes Act was introduced in 1973. This is the same year that the UK joined the EU! As such, many would argue it is time for new legislation to be passed. Resolution will no doubt continue to campaign to end no fault divorce, to prevent such cases in the future ever having to come before the Court.