10:40, April 09 39 0 theguardian.com

2019-04-09 10:40:06
No-fault divorce reform will allow families to function, say lawyers

Lawyers have welcomed government plans to introduce no-fault divorce, saying the changes would allow families to function after a marriage breakdown.

The government announced on Tuesday that divorce laws in England and Wales would be changed as soon as parliamentary time became available.

Under the existing Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 a spouse has to prove their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour for divorce proceedings to start.

If a couple wants a divorce and neither party admits blame, they must live apart for two years. If one spouse does not agree to ending the marriage, they must live apart for five years before a divorce is granted.

The new laws will include a minimum timeframe of six months from petition stage to a marriage being ended, designed to allow couples to reflect on their decision. They will also prevent someone refusing a divorce if their spouse wants one.

Nigel Winter, a partner at the law firm DMH Stallard, said: “It has to be remembered that, after a divorce, a family still has to function. By avoiding a process that encourages hostility, these proposals help achieve that.”

Michael Gouriet, a partner at Withers family law team, said shifting the emphasis from blame to resolution was essential for all parties involved in a divorce, not least children who were caught up in it.

“What’s more, taking out the requirement for airing dirty laundry or sharing upsetting incidents from the past will make the whole process quicker and less antagonistic,” he said.

Joanna Farrands, a partner at Barlow Robbins, said the government had finally listened to practitioners and the public in pushing through reforms to the “archaic divorce laws”.

“Naturally, there had been concerns that the divorce process would become ‘too easy’,” she said. “However, today’s announcement provides a good compromise; delivering reform without undermining the institution of marriage.”

Some senior members of the judiciary, the Family Mediation Taskforce, and Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers, have all previously called for the introduction of no-fault divorce. The government announced the changes to the law after a public consultation launched in September.

Welcoming the consultation, Henry Hood, a partner at Hunters Solicitors, said: “We have been here before of course, and there will be resistance just as there was in 1996 which was able then to prevent any change even after reforming legislation had been passed. That cannot happen again … can it?”

The Family Law Act 1996 allowed for no-fault divorce provided couples took part in compulsory mediation meetings, but the divorce sections of the act were not proceed into law after pilot schemes were deemed to have failed.

Sarah Thompson, a family lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “No-fault divorce, first mooted in the UK more than a decade ago, has been successfully adopted by other countries and I know many of my clients would have chosen it had it been an option at that time.

“When couples who want an amicable split are forced into assigning blame, it is at best uncomfortable and can be extremely damaging, particularly when there are children involved.”

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