'No fault' divorce bill gets MPs backing

Will Sidery, 09/06/2020

MPs in the UK have voted in favour of a bill introducing "no-fault" divorces in England and Wales. The bill passed its first hurdle in the Commons by 231 votes to 16 against, following a debate and has been welcomed by the private client sector in the UK.

Under current rules, an individual has to allege adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion has taken place in order to start divorce proceedings immediately. The new rules will mean that one spouse will only have to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The new legislation will also speed up proceedings as currently anyone looking to divorce without the consent of their spouse must live apart from them for five years.

Family lawyers in the UK said the bill’s progression “will be hugely advantageous for divorcing couples” whilst “the blame factor will be history in the biggest shake up since the Children Act in 1989,” according to Charmaine Hast, partner at Wedlake Bell, commented, adding that “the government is helping families spend less money and experience less stress on this uncontentious aspect of divorce. After all one cannot force anyone to love or to want to remain married!"

Tini Owens, whose own attempt at securing a no fault divorce after 40 years of marriage was rejected by the Supreme Court, said she hoped “that new legislation will be introduced shortly so that, in the future, couples will not have to go through the unhappy, long, arduous and expensive divorce process which I have had to ensure and which I would recommend to no-one.”

Simon Beccle, a partner at Payne Hicks Beach and Mrs Owens’s solicitor, said: “By bringing in so-called no-fault or no-conduct divorce, couples would be able to divorce with greater dignity without them having to trawl over their conduct or behaviour towards one another and attribute blame for the breakdown, which often has a negative effect at the outset of proceedings and so often damages efforts to resolve issues relating to finances and children.

Graham Coy, a family partner at Wilsons said the reforms “strike the right balance between removing some of the bureaucracy around divorces that had made the process very painful for some couples and ensuring that couples have enough time and reflection to save a marriage where they can.

“This is not ‘divorce on demand’ as some critics have claimed but a sensible move to allow adults to end marriages that were not working without having to enter into a painful round of blame and, sometimes, mud-slinging. The 26-week period is a sensible measure. Couples should have some time to reflect on their decision, rather than end their marriage because proceedings were filed in a fit of pique.”

However, Toby Yerburgh, head of family at Collyer Bristow, cautioned that although the bill has seen some progress “many will be wondering whether opposition will again manage to scupper changes to the process upon the basis that they will harm the institution of marriage.”

Mr Yerburgh added that the last time a Bill providing for no-fault divorce passed through Parliament in the guise of Part II of the Family Law Act 1996, “it got all the way onto the Statute book without ever being brought into force. It was eventually repealed in 2014. So campaigners for this badly needed reform would do well not to hold their breath.”

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