Divorce Laws Overhaul Set To End ‘Blame Game’ And Improve Rights

By Jenn Selby, Freelance News Editor 9 Apr 2019

Divorce laws are being amended for the first time in 50 years in order to make it easier for couples to end their marriage without having to seek permission or prove fault.

Under current laws in England and Wales, couples can only get divorced by proving there was adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. Without the agreement of the other spouse, the only other way to legally separate is to prove that they have lived apart for five years.

Now, instead of one spouse having to provide evidence about their length of separation or their former partner’s behaviour, they will only have to submit a “statement of irretrievable breakdown” to a court.

A partner will no longer have the ability to contest the divorce.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said the changes would help to end the “blame game”.

Image credit: Couple/Unsplash

“Frankly, we are not going to keep marriages together by having a divorce process that just makes it more acrimonious [and] tries to apportion blame in such a way that the couple are likely to have a weaker, poorer relationship subsequently than they would otherwise do,” Mr Gauke told BBC news.

The new law will be introduced as soon as possible, “when parliamentary time allows”, he added.

Similar changes will also be made to the law surrounding civil partnerships.

What Prompted The Change In Law After So Many Years?

Divorce lawyers and advocates have long argued the case for updating existing divorce legislation.

Aidan Jones, the chief executive of relationship support charity Relate, said the changes were “much-needed”.

“The outdated fault-based divorce system led parting couples to apportion blame, often resulting in increased animosity and making it harder for ex-partners to develop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,” he told Sky News.

“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.”

Image credit: David Gauke MP/ Flickr

Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, 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 decision follows the Supreme Court’s rejection of a woman’s appeal for divorce after her husband refused to agree to ending the marriage.

Tini Owens, 68, wanted to divorce her husband of 40 years because she was unhappy.

However, her husband Hugh refused to grant her the separation. Due to the Supreme Court rejection of Tini’s appeal, the couple must now remain legally married until 2020.

Baroness Hale, who is the most senior judge in the UK, has repeatedly called for the overhaul of the half-century-old divorce laws, saying that they are “unjust”.

In introducing the new laws, the Ministry of Justice also hopes that it will stop individuals in abusive or controlling relationships from being locked in harmful marriages against their wishes.

Is Everyone Happy With The New Proposals?

Nicola Poole, managing director and specialist family lawyer at Hedges Law, doesn’t feel that the new laws go far enough.

“The idea that removing ‘fault’ will make divorces easier and more popular or ‘open the floodgates’ is absurd and unlikely,” she said.

“People do not leave marriages without a huge amount of thought, and pain, and the new process will simply mean that if and when they have come to a decision to end their marriage, they can do so without causing even more damage by blaming the other spouse.

Image credit: Wedding couple/Unsplash

“I think divorce law change could go even further: even the terminology seems antagonistic – the word divorce inevitably has undesirable connotations. At the time of my divorce, my son asked me why they didn’t just call it ‘de-marriage’. I think he’s onto something!”

Meanwhile, Colin Hart, the chairman of the Coalition for Marriage, said:

“The Government is setting out to destroy the foundations of marriage by allowing cheating or bored spouses to walk away from a solemn, lifelong commitment whenever they choose and with the full support, and even encouragement, of the state.”

Mr Hart concluded: “No-fault divorce is incompatible with both the weight of evidence that shows marriage is the gold standard of relationships and needs support and the Government’s obsession to appear to be ‘progressive’. There is nothing progressive about this cheaters’ charter.”

Do We Have A Right To Be Married And Divorced?

Article 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 respects the rights of men and women of a marriageable age to be able to marry and start a family.

An individual’s right to marry is subject to national laws on marriage, including those that make marriage illegal between certain types of people (for example, close relatives),

The government is able to restrict the right to marry. However any restrictions must not be arbitrary and must not interfere with the principle of the right.

In 2002, the Human Rights Court ruled that this right also extends to transsexual people.

In the UK, this is legislated under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

Article 8 of the Human Rights Act protects the right to respect for an individual’s private life, family life, home and correspondence (letters, telephone calls and emails, for example).

Feature image credit: Wedding scene/Unsplash