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No Fault Divorce Bill v Current Fault Based Divorce System

Most family lawyers and judges will tell you that the end of a marriage is, more often than not, ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’.

We recently listed the Top 20 Reasons for Divorce in a picture blog. Several of the most common reasons for divorce involve both people in the divorce. Examples include “we were bored” or “we had money problems”. 

Despite this, our current law creates a “fault-based” system. In order to issue divorce proceedings without having a two-year separation period from your spouse, you must start proceedings based on wrongdoing by the other person, namely their adultery or their ‘unreasonable behaviour’. 

This system, which requires a legal cause for a divorce, specifically allocates blame for the breakdown of the marriage to one person, set out in writing on the divorce papers.

In an effort to change the law, there is currently a No Fault Divorce Bill going through Parliament as a Private Members’ Bill, introduced under the Ten Minute Rule. This allows an MP to make his or her case for a new bill in a speech lasting up to ten minutes.

An opposing speech may also be made before the House decides whether or not the bill should be introduced. Following a successful vote in Parliament, this bill had its first reading on 13 October 2015. The second reading has now been pushed back to 22 January 2016 as there was no time for debate when it was originally scheduled on 4 December 2015.

A No fault Divorce Bill would enable couples to divorce based on a declaration by both of them that their marriage has broken down irretrievably. It would not make divorce easier, and in fact would elongate the procedure, allowing more time for reflection. 

At Slater and Gordon, all our family lawyers are members of Resolution, a national organisation committed to non-confrontational divorce, separation and other family problems. 

Research recently published by Resolution shows that the fault-based nature of divorce is forcing more than a quarter of divorcing couples to make false allegations to the court. Resolution is fully supportive of this change in the law.

The current system does not act as a deterrent to divorce, nor does it help couples to reconcile. 

From experience, I know that it simply escalates conflict at the start of the divorce process, which is often the time when emotions are already running high and relations are fraught. Couples become distracted by mud-slinging and accusations at a time when they should be focusing on more important matters, such as the needs of the children or the resolution of family finances. 

The No Fault Divorce Bill is a welcome step in ensuring a more dignified start to the divorce procedure. 

Claire Reid is a senior family and divorce lawyer at Slater and Gordon. She works from the Manchester and Newcastle Offices.

You can contact the expert family solicitors at Slater and Gordon to talk about your divorce by calling freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online.

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