A giant leap towards fundamental reform of our current divorce laws was taken this week when MPs debated the final stages of new legislation that will introduce no-fault divorce. Although the new laws are unlikely to be implemented until autumn 2021 and it may not be until 2022 that couples will be able to divorce under the new system, it seems that, finally, a more civilised and dignified divorce process is on its way.
Divorce laws in England and Wales are now over 50 years old. Couples seeking a divorce must either spend a minimum of two years separated or one must blame the other for the marriage breakdown, referring to adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Even if both you and your ex agree the relationship is over, you must still attribute blame if you don’t want to wait two years before divorcing. Most couples don’t want to or can’t afford to put their lives on hold for this length of time; neither do many couples want to become involved in a ‘blame game’ - revisiting painful moments from their marriage simply to obtain a divorce - creating unnecessary conflict, which in turns makes reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on the children or finances much more difficult.
Under the new no-fault system, you or your ex (or both of you together) will simply need to complete a statement that your marriage has broken down irretrievably. There will no longer be any need to ‘prove’ this by showing that you have lived separately for a period of time or by assigning blame. You can find out more about no-fault divorce and what it means for separating couples over on FamilyLawVlogger where Caitlin Jenkins has been tracking the progress of reform.
Nigel Shepherd, former Chair of Resolution, the national family justice organisation, and long-time campaigner for no-fault divorce, said:
“This is the biggest reform of divorce laws in England and Wales in over fifty years, demonstrating just how outdated and old-fashioned fault-based divorce is. This victory would not have been possible without the dedication and enthusiasm of our [Resolution] members, who wrote to and met with their local MPs in support of our campaign. We worked closely with the Ministry of Justice on this Bill and look forward to continuing to work with them to implement the new law as soon as possible so that we can start helping separating families more effectively.”
The reform follows in the wake of the Supreme Court case of Owens v Owens, where Mills & Reeve acted pro bono for Resolution as the only third party intervener.
The family and children team at Mills & Reeve have long promoted a constructive and amicable approach to divorce, particularly to minimise the impact of conflict between parents on their children. It is welcome news that this long-awaited reform will soon be a reality – watch this space and FamilyLawVlogger for further updates on when no-fault divorce will be available to separating couples.