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Modernising the System: No-Fault Divorce Consultation Planned by UK Government

18 Sep 2018


Justice Secretary David Gauke is currently preparing a much-anticipated public consultation on introducing ‘no-fault’ divorce. The consultation is a result of growing pressure from campaign groups and divorce lawyers who have been pressing for the system to be modernised. They argue that the current adversarial system forces couples to blame one another if they wish to speed up divorce.


Current Law


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. These are the only ways in which it can be proven that a marriage has broken down irretrievably.


The argument for reform of this legislation that is nearly half a century old is strong as it appears many believe that the current process is not fit for our times.


The Blame Game


Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, in a speech to family lawyers in Bristol earlier this year, said that:


‘Allowing one spouse to blame another for a marriage breakdown makes things worse for children and provokes unnecessary hostility and bitterness between couples’.


Christina Blacklaws, the president of the Law Society, stated:


‘Making couples attribute fault in order to end their marriage can escalate the differences between them in an already charged situation. We welcome news the Ministry of Justice is to consult on proposals to update the divorce law.


It’s time to bring this law into the 21st century to reflect the society we live in and we look forward to working with government to ensure the reforms are fit for purpose’.


However, arguments against the introduction of no-fault divorce include that it could lead to a dramatic increase in divorce petitions.


The issue of having no-fault divorce was highlighted earlier this year by the Supreme Court which said current law meant it could do nothing in the case of a woman trying to divorce her husband after almost 40 years of marriage. The justices said they reluctantly had to dismiss the case brought by Tini Owens, whose 80-year-old husband Hugh contested her divorce petition, saying the couple still had a “few years” left to enjoy together.  The current state of the law means that Mrs Owens, who separated from her husband in 2015, will be unable to get a divorce until 2020.


Divorce and separation is often a time of conflict and heartache, if you require legal assistance throughout the process, please do not hesitate to contact Christine McVay, Head of the Family Law department at Short Richardson & Forth Solicitors on 0191232 0283 or at

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