00:02, February 08 222 0 theguardian.com

2019-02-08 00:02:08
No-fault divorce to become the law

No-fault divorces that could replace the protracted courtroom battles couples often face when separating are to be introduced into law.

The justice secretary, David Gauke, has confirmed that he will introduce legislation enacting the reform in the next session of parliament, removing the need for separating couples to wait for years or allocate blame for the collapse of their relationship.

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in England and Wales, anyone seeking a divorce must either prove their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour; or if both sides agree they can part after two years of separation. In the absence of consent or evidence of fault, applicants must wait until they have been living apart for five years.

Gauke launched a consultation last autumn on reforming the law. Responses received by the ministry have revealed widespread support for the initiative. The justice secretary told the Times the response to the consultation were “overwhelmingly in support which is why I remain as convinced as I have been for the need to reform this particular area”.

Demands for change have mounted after the Tini Owens case. The supreme court ruled in July 2018 that the 68-year-old could not divorce her husband until a period of five years had elapsed. She and her husband, Hugh Owens, had been living separate lives since 2015.

Labour has also supported changing the law which has remained unaltered for 50 years.

No-fault divorce was first introduced by the Family Law Act 1996 but its provisions were later deemed unworkable and it was repealed. It has been widely supported by prominent members of the judiciary, lawyers and relationship charities.

Nigel Shepherd, a former chair of the family law organisation Resolution, said in 2018: “For far too long couples have been forced into needless acrimony and conflict in order to satisfy an outdated legal requirement. Apportioning blame can lead to long-term damage to relationships between children and their parents, and can undermine attempts to resolve matters outside of an already overstretched court system.”