Tag: Justice Secretary David Gauke

No fault? Not always

Do this week’s widely-approved changes to divorce law risk a potential disservice to one very important section of people?

The Government has announced legislation to overhaul divorce law with the intention of reducing conflict between parties.

The move to ‘no fault’ divorce follows a public consultation in which more than 3,000 interested parties took part.

Proposals would end the need for spouses to evidence at least one of adultery, behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation (if the other spouse consents to divorce), or five years’ separation (if the other spouse disagrees). Instead, one or both parties would provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown.

While the proposals that will update 50-year-old laws have been generally welcomed, they may remove an important part of the healing process for spouses who’ve suffered through their marriages.

Family view

Merrick Life has spoken with two families who’ve recently experienced the divorce process. We heard from them that attributing blame for the marriage breakdown was actually a powerful positive.

‘Malcolm’, who has been supporting a family member through their divorce, said: “There will be many divorces where there is no blame. But when there is behaviour that has led directly to the breakdown of the marriage, then it just feels like an opportunity to voice that is being squashed.

“In so many areas of life we are being told we have to address feelings. It is part of the process of healing to get things out that have happened. The concept of ‘no fault’  flies in the face of that.

“For my family member it’s part of their recovery. It’s making them  feel better. It has made them sit down and think about everything that’s happened and realise it’s not their fault.

“The end result would be the same under a changed law but the journey may be harder. There doesn’t appear to be the opportunity to get all that stuff out and deal with it.”

Client view

A female client also told us: “I think there’s a danger that by trying to make everyone fit under this umbrella you’re saying that what some people have been through is irrelevant, and it can’t be irrelevant.

“If there has been abuse in the relationship then I think the courts should listen sympathetically to that.

“I’m sure ‘no fault’ will be fine for many couples but for me it would have been a disaster. I had to summon every ounce of courage and energy to seek a divorce. The abuse I suffered was not just verbal and physical but also financial.”

“If everything is ‘no fault’ for those like me it is not true, it’s not realistic.”

Government view

The Government admitted that for some being able to blame their partner for the breakdown was a cathartic experience.

The report says: ‘Some thought that ending the availability of conduct-based facts would remove the right of “innocent” parties to name the “guilty” party.

‘The role of the court, however, is not to adjudicate on who was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, only to satisfy itself that the legal threshold of irretrievable breakdown is established.

It later adds: ‘We appreciate that some respondents believed that parties who were “wronged”, as they saw it, should have an opportunity to set this out by using a conduct-based fact. But we also heard arguments from groups representing victims of domestic abuse that – on balance, given the limited legal effect of this and its risk of heightening conflict – this is unnecessary as part of the process of obtaining a divorce.’

Merrick view

Merrick principal Amanda Merrick welcomed several aspects of the proposed changes, including reducing time limits for a separation with or without the other party’s consent.

But she added: “There are, of course, couples for whom no-fault would be the preferred route. For some people though, such as those who have been in an abusive relationship, assigning fault or blame to the other party is empowering; very often the start of their healing process.

“Divorce reform should therefore be about creating options. It shouldn’t be about making it the same for everyone no matter what experiences have brought them to this point.

“Few, if any, undertake divorce lightly and for those who have suffered the petition is often the first step towards re-finding their voice and being heard; it is the start of a journey to move away from the past towards a better future  .”

Justice Secretary David Gauke said new legislation will be introduced to Parliament ‘as soon as parliamentary time allows’.

There’s a summary of what’s proposed here and you can read the Government’s response to the consultation here.




Government announces divorce law changes

The Government has announced legislation to overhaul divorce law with the intention of reducing conflict between parties.

The move follows a public consultation which heard from more than 3,000 interested parties. This included many with direct experience of divorce who voiced their support for reform.

Current law requires spouses to evidence at least one of five ‘facts’: adultery, behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation (if the other spouse consents to divorce), or five years’ separation (if the other spouse disagrees).

Here’s what’s proposed:
  • The option for one spouse to contest divorce will be removed.
  • The irretrievable breakdown of a marriage will be retained as the sole ground for divorce.
  • There will no longer be requirement to provide evidence of ‘fault’ for the irretrievable breakdown.
  • There will still be a two-stage process currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute.
  • The law will introduce a minimum timeframe of six months, from petition stage to final divorce.

The Government has also said it will retain the bar on divorce applications in the first year of marriage.

It will also move to modernise language used in the process. It was found terms such as petitioner, decree nisi and decree absolute can cause confusion. They will instead be aligned with the terms used in civil partnership dissolutions – applicant, conditional order and final order.

Introducing the changes, Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.

“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.”

New legislation will be introduced to Parliament ‘as soon as parliamentary time allows’.

You can read the Government’s response to the consultation here.

We’ve written about ‘no fault’ divorce previously here.

Divorce law consultation needs real families

A consultation is now under way on proposals to change Britain’s outdated divorce law.

The government wants to end the ‘blame game’ for separating couples and reduce unnecessary conflict in the divorce process.

At present, divorcing couples are forced into blaming each other for the marriage breakdown. They must cite unreasonable behaviour, adultery or desertion on the part of their spouse, unless they have been separated for a minimum of two years. If the divorce is opposed, then couples currently must wait five years before a divorce is granted.

Critics say the need for one party to be blamed for the breakdown of the relationship creates additional tensions, at an already stressful time for couples and any children affected.

Demands for change have increased since the Supreme Court ruled in July that Mrs Tini Owens should be prevented from divorcing her husband, until five years had elapsed. This was despite living apart from Hugh Owens since 2015.

No fault divorce

The most eye-catching aspect of the new proposals is the introduction of a new notification process which would remove the opportunity for the other spouse to contest divorce. This is the reason the change is referred to as ‘no fault divorce’.

Other proposals in the consultation include:

  • Retaining the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce.
  • Removing the need to show evidence of the other spouse’s conduct, or a period of living apart.
  • Introducing a new notification process where one, or possibly both parties, can notify the court of the intention to divorce.
  • Testing a six-month minimum timeframe between the two stages of divorce. This would give couples the stability to plan as well as to consider the implications of the decision.

Introducing the consultation, Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “When a marriage has irretrievably broken down, the law should not frustrate achieving better outcomes, especially for children.

Justice Secretary David Gauke on divorce law consultation

“That is why we are consulting on the detail of our reform proposal, so that a revised legal process can help people find greater stability to consider the implications of the decision to divorce and help them to reach agreement about arrangements for the future.

“Last year, nearly 110,000 couples divorced, all of them constrained by a requirement in place for nearly half a century. The damaging effects of this requirement are not always apparent to people who have not themselves been affected by divorce.”

Merrick view

Merrick principal Amanda Merrick said: “It has long been argued that our divorce laws are no longer fit for purpose and overdue for reform. What people have now is an opportunity to put forward views on how we move to something better.

“In particular, I really hope that those who have been through the process make their views known. Having been divorced with the law as it currently stands, they are uniquely placed to give testament to what works and what needs to change.”

Have your say in the consultation

Divorce facts

Only about 2% of respondents contest the petitioner’s decision to seek a divorce. Of these, only a handful go on to defend the divorce at a court hearing.

At present, six weeks and a day must elapse before a decree nisi can be made absolute. In practice divorces take much longer to go through.

In 2017, behaviour accounted for nearly half of all petitions (46.8%, or 47.3% when combined with adultery).

Last year almost 110,000 people petitioned for divorce in England and Wales.

The consultation closes on 10 December 2018.

We’ve written about no fault divorce previously.