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16 February 2017

Reforming our divorce laws: why it’s time for a ‘no fault’ option

In November I was one of 150 lawyers who went to Parliament to call for ‘no fault divorce’.  Organised by family law organisation Resolution, we met with MPs and Peers to explain why the current system can lead to unnecessary conflict by forcing couples to attribute fault, even when they don’t want to.

I spoke to Guildford MP Anne Milton in Parliament and later to East Hampshire MP Damian Hinds in his surgery. I explained that current divorce law is sadly not fit for today’s modern society. Many couples break up because they simply fall out of love with each other but the law fails to recognise this as a legitimate reason for separation.

Instead, if they want to start divorce proceedings within two years of separation (and many do in order to achieve financial certainty), couples are forced to cite blame on their divorce petition and, from my personal experience as a family lawyer, this often leads to unnecessary argument and conflict. This is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. It undermines the work that I and other Resolution members do to help separating couples minimise conflict for themselves and their children.

Despite our efforts, this week Lord Keen, the House of Lords spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, said the government has no plans to reform divorce law. I explained to the Law Society Gazette and The Times (paywall) why this is a missed opportunity. The government could have acted on the debate around fault-based divorce and drafted a change to the law, but has chosen not to do so.

The Court of Appeal case of Mr and Mrs Owens, widely reported in the press this week and relating to a judge’s refusal to grant a decree of divorce on the basis of the unreasonable behaviour particulars cited, is a clear example of why the law in this area needs to change. Surely it would be better for parties to avoid spending court time and money on the contents of the divorce petition and to focus instead on resolving the financial and other arrangements, without beginning from a starting point of potential conflict over the reasons stated in the divorce petition?

No fault divorce was originally provided for in the 1996 Family Law Act but was never brought into force.  Family lawyers will continue to lobby for change.


This article was written by Felicity Chapman. For more information, please get in contact with Felicity on +44 (0)1483 252502 or felicity.chapman@crsblaw.com.

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