30th September 2018
A consultation on introducing “no-fault divorces”, which could streamline the slow and confrontational procedures couples face when separating, is being prepared by the government.
The justice secretary, David Gauke, who has previously acknowledged that the argument for reform is "strong", is expected to launch a public debate on proposals to modernise legislation that has not been changed for almost 50 years.
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, alternatively, 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.
Demands for change have mounted after the Tini Owens case. The Supreme Court ruled in July that the 68-year-old could not divorce her husband and escape her loveless marriage until a period of five years had elapsed. She and her husband, Hugh Owens, had been living separate lives since 2011.
The minister has said he was "increasingly persuaded … that what we have at the moment creates more antagonism than we really need". He added: "I don’t think the best way of helping the institution of marriage is by putting bureaucratic hurdles in the way of a divorce."
At South West Mediation, we support the campaign for the current outdated legal procedures to change. The adversarial system we now have forces couples to blame one another if they wish to speed up divorce which can lead to needless acrimony and conflict at an already difficult and challenging time for many families. It can also lead to legal fees increasing as couples pay lawyers to argue about who is at fault.
We believe that the law needs to change so people can divorce in a more dignified, child focused and cost efficient way.