Potential law change could mean divorce without the blame game
A landmark shift in the divorce process could mean couples can separate more quickly and with less ill feeling.
The government’s announcement of an overhaul of divorce laws earlier this year could lead to a legal split without blame being placed on either party.
In September, Justice Secretary David Gauke MP launched a reform of the legal requirements for divorce, saying: “We think the blame game that currently exists helps no one. It creates unnecessary antagonism and anxiety at an already trying time for couples and in particular where there are children.”
The government consultation to change the law ‘to reduce family conflict and strengthen family responsibility’ ended on 10 December, with the results expected early in 2019.
Resolution, a campaign organisation that represents 6,500 family justice professionals, has long championed the need to change the current system, saying it leads to conflict and confrontation, which is particularly harmful for children.
One of those who has called for ‘no-fault divorce’ is Michaela Heathcote, head of family law at Sheffield-based solicitors Taylor&Emmet. She denied claims that it could encourage more people to divorce, saying it would simply remove some of the stress and anxiety caused by assigning blame to the process.
“Submitting a behaviour-based petition is about striking a balance. You need to provide enough information to satisfy the court, without slinging mud unnecessarily,” she explains.
“Introducing the concept of no-fault divorce is not trivialising marriage, it would simply enable couples to part ways with less acrimony and bitterness.”
Under the current system, couples must wait at least two years before they can divorce, or apportion blame by alleging adultery or what is commonly referred to as ‘unreasonable behaviour’, making it harder to reach an amicable agreement.
Members of Resolution also argue that it makes it harder for family justice professionals to help couples resolve issues in a constructive way.
A YouGov survey commissioned by the organisation found that four out of five people agree that conflict from divorce or separation can negatively affect children’s mental health, and a similar figure felt that conflict could affect a child’s academic performance.
More than 100,000 divorces are granted each year in England and Wales, and behaviour was the most common reason used for opposite-sex divorce (52 per cent) and same-sex divorce (83 per cent among women, 73 per cent among men). However, the Finding Fault study conducted by the Nuffield Foundation found that less than a third of respondents said the legal fact given for the divorce very closely matched the real reason for their separation.
For more information about divorce and separation, contact Taylor&Emmet’s family law team on (0114) 218 4000 or visit www.tayloremmet.co.uk