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Divorce law: Reforms to end ‘blame game’


Fault based divorces can create unnecessary conflict between divorcing couples and critically expose children to the ongoing acrimony between parents before, during and after the divorce proceedings.

Under current divorce laws in England and Wales, a party who wishes to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouse would need to notify the Court that their marriage has irretrievably broken-down by establishing one of the five facts below.

  1. Adultery;
  2. Unreasonable Behaviour;
  3. Desertion;
  4. Two Years Separation (with consent), and 
  5. Five Years Separation.

Fault based divorces such as adultery and unreasonable behaviour can inflame an already trying time between divorcing couples. The current legislation states the person initiating the proceedings (i.e. the Petitioner) is to provide proof that the marriage has irretrievably broken-down which, forces the Petitioner to evidence examples of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ against their spouse (the Respondent).

The current legislation also forces married couples to remain married for a period of two or five years because they are unable to blame one another for the breakdown of the marriage which is be considered to be unfair.  

In the most recent case of Owens v Owens UKSC [2018], Mrs Owens initiated divorce proceeding after 40 years of marriage based on Mr Owens unreasonable behaviour. Mrs Owens evidenced examples of being unhappy. Mr Owens defended the divorce petition as he felt he had not behaved in the way Mrs Owens had alleged and had hoped that Mrs Owens would return to live with him. Mrs Owens appealed to the Supreme Court where her appeal was rejected and it was held, her appeal from a refusal to grant a Decree Nisi was dismissed and that Mrs Owens must remain married to Mr Owens until 2020 which is when the fact of five years separation shall apply. 

On the 9th April 2019 England and Wales saw a 50-year breakthrough in divorce legislation. Justice Secretary David Gauke said by ending the “blame game” it will bring to an end the hostility and conflict between divorcing couples and by introducing the reform of a no-fault based divorce should alleviate undue stress and acrimony. 

Going forwards, what does this mean?

The Government are introducing the divorce no-fault reforms and has plans to:

  1. Remove the five facts for divorce;
  2. Retain the definition of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage;
  3. Providing divorcing couples the opportunity to give notice for divorce jointly;
  4. Remove the ability for one person to contest a divorce;
  5. Retain the two-stage process of Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute;
  6. Change the timeframe to six months from initiating divorce proceedings to Decree Absolute, and
  7. Simplify the legal language in Divorce Proceedings.

The no-fault divorce legislation will come in to force as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

We at Austin Kemp support the reforms as it will make the divorce proceedings for our client’s easier and shall encourage them to turn their focus on more important issues such as finances and children matters.

Written by Sarah Afzal Neal | Family Lawyer

E: sarah.afzal@austinkemp.co.uk


How can our expert divorce solicitors help you?

Our expert divorce solicitors can help you with a range of legal issues:

Contact our expert divorce solicitors for advice on financial disclosure

For more information on financial disclosure during divorce call our divorce solicitors on 0845 862 5001 or email mail@austinkemp.co.uk.

Our expert divorce solicitors offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available, in order to have face-to-face client meetings / conferences as and when required in our:

Leeds Office: St Andrew House, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5JW

Sheffield Office: Pinfold Street, The Balance, Sheffield, S1 2GU

Manchester Office: King Street, Manchester, M2 4PD

Wakefield Office: Market Walk, Wakefield, WF1 1QR

Canary Wharf Office: 25 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5LB

London Office: 01 Nothumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5BW

Please contact us for more details. 

22nd April 2019

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