The government announced on 9th April 2019 that the divorce laws in England and Wales will be changed once parliamentary time becomes available in the biggest divorce law changes in 50 years.
According to the current Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, a spouse has to prove that their partner is at fault through either adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour for the divorce proceedings to commence. If neither party of a couple admits blame, they must live apart from each other for 2 years and if one partner refuses to end the marriage then they must live apart for 5 years before the divorce is granted.
The new laws being put in place will specify a period of 6 months from the petition stage to the marriage being ended, which allows for couples to have some time to reflect on their decision. The laws will also prevent people from refusing a divorce if their partner wants one.
Justice secretary David Gauke said: “Marriage will always be one of our most important institutions, but when a relationship ends it cannot be right for the law to create or increase conflict between divorcing couples. That is why we will remove the archaic requirements to allege fault or show evidence of separation, making the process less acrimonious and helping families look to the future.”
Why a no-fault divorce?
Conflict can have serious long-term effects on children. There is a wealth of evidence that shows the impact of conflict arising from divorce on the children of divorcing couples.
Resolution members, such as ourselves, are committed to reducing conflict and agreeing to a non-confrontational way of proceeding that puts the children first. The current law states that unless you have been separated for 2 years with consent, or 5 years without, you have to divorce on the grounds of adultery or behaviour. In 2016, the majority (60%) of divorces in England and Wales were granted on adultery and behaviour.
Divorce is always difficult, but having to show fault can increase the conflict between the couple and make it more difficult to sort out child and financial arrangements. 71% of the population agrees that no fault divorce is urgently needed to protect the long-term interests of children.
Without wanting to trivialise it, we call it ‘the blame game,’ but one that can have very serious consequences for the couple and any children they might have. Urgent reform is needed to remove blame from the process to reduce the negative impact of conflict on children.
Facts: Divorce in England and Wales
- There are over 100,000 divorces in England and Wales each year. (ONS 2018)
- Behaviour is the most common Fact used for opposite-sex divorce (52%) and same-sex divorce (83% among women, 73% among men). (ONS 2018)
- In 2015, 60% of divorces in England and Wales were granted on adultery and behaviour, compared with just 6-7% in Scotland where the law is different (Finding Fault 2017)
- National opinion survey showed only 29% of respondents to a fault divorce said that the Fact used very closely matched the reason for the separation. (Finding Fault, 2017)
- Fault is associated with shorter marriages, and evidence shows that fault enables a quick exit from a marriage. (Finding fault 2017)
What Resolution members think of current law (2018 Resolution survey)
- 90% say current law makes it harder to reduce conflict between ex-partners.
- 67% say the current law makes it harder for separated parents to reach agreements.
- 80% feel the introduction of no fault divorce would help separating couples reach an agreement out of court.
What young people (14-22 year olds) think (2015 ComRes survey)
- Of those who have experienced family breakups, 82% would prefer their parents to part if they are unhappy.
- More than 60% felt their parents had not ensured they were part of the decision-making process in their separation or divorce.
- Half of young people indicated they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live.
- 88% agreed it was important to make sure children do not feel like they have to choose between parents.
- About half admitted not understanding what was happening during their parents’ separation or divorce, while 19% agreed that they sometimes felt like it was their fault.
- Resolution’s research suggested that many parents handle their separations well: 50% of young people agreed that their parents put their needs first.
How divorce and separation affects young people (14-22 year olds) (2014 ComRes survey)
- 19% said they didn’t get the exam results they were hoping for.
- The majority (65%) say that their GCSE exam results were affected while 44% say A-levels suffered.
- Almost a quarter (24%) said that they struggled to complete homework, essays or assignments.
- More than one in 10 (11%) said they found themselves “getting into more trouble at school, college or university,” with 12% confessing to skipping lessons.
- 14% of the young people surveyed said they started drinking alcohol, or drinking more alcohol than previously, while almost three in ten (28%) said that they started eating more or less than previously.
- 13% admitted to experimenting, or thinking about experimenting with drugs as a result of their parents’ break-up.
- 32% of respondents said one parent tried to turn them against the other.
- More than 1 in 4 (27%) said their parents tried to involve them in their dispute.
- Almost 1 in 5 (19%) saying that they completely lost contact with one or more grandparents.
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