“Outdated” divorce laws are to be overhauled by the government in an effort to end the “blame game” faced by couples.
Justice Secretary David Gauke confirmed new legislation will be introduced which will scrap the ability of a partner to contest a divorce and allow divorcing spouses to make a statement that the marriage has broken down.
Under current laws in England and Wales, the only way to obtain a divorce without a spouse’s agreement is to either prove there was adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, or live apart for five years.
Divorce law in Britain requires couples to prove the marriage has broken down
The proposed arrangements will keep “irretrievable breakdown” of a marriage as the sole grounds for divorce.
The current two-stage process of a decree nisi – a document which says the court cannot see any reason why you cannot divorce – followed by a decree absolute, the legal document which ends a marriage, will remain the same.
However, a six-month minimum period will be introduced between the lodging of a petition to the divorce being made final.
Couples will also be able to make joint divorce applications, alongside the current option for one partner to start the process.
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Mr Gauke said: “While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.
“So I have listened to calls for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame game for good.”
Chief executive of charity Relate, Aidan Jones, said the changes were “much-needed” and welcomed the introduction of a minimum time-frame for the divorce process.
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He said: “The outdated fault-based divorce system led parting couples to apportion blame, often resulting in increased animosity and making it harder for ex-partners to develop positive relationships as co-parents.
“While divorce isn’t a decision that people tend to take lightly, we do support the extension of the minimum time-frame which will allow more time to reflect, give things another go if appropriate, and access support such as relationship counselling or mediation.”
Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, welcomed the changes to a system which she said currently “exacerbates tensions” between couples.
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She added: “The government’s decision to introduce a ‘no fault’ divorce will help to cut some of the conflict from what can be a highly stressful experience.
“For separating parents, it can be much more difficult to focus on the needs of their children when they have to prove a fault-based fact against their former partner.
“Introducing a ‘no fault’ divorce will change the way couples obtain a divorce – for the better.”
The overhaul follows a government consultation last year, when details of the proposals were first unveiled.