No more blame game in no-blame divorce plan

Changes expected to divorce laws in England and Wales

Changes are expected to divorce laws in England and Wales later this year as the government puts plans before parliament this month.

It proposes a ‘no-fault divorce’ by removing the need to provide a reason for the separation, and allowing couples to legally dissolve the marriage within six months.

Crucially the plan aims to reduce conflict and help separated families to remain amicable in the aftermath, for the benefit of children and the divorced couple emotionally.

Currently the law allows divorce if one of five things can be ‘proven’, and for those reasons to be contested. There is the option separate and live apart for more than two years (if both sides agree) or five years (if one side contests) after which time a divorce may be granted.
Or, to divorce more quickly, the current law states that one of the parties must accuse the other of either adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour.

The process itself therefore encourages conflict, heightening tensions on both sides which, it is argued, can lead to long, protracted and difficult proceedings which have an adverse impact on both the divorcing couple and their families, especially the children.

In the ‘no-fault’ scenario, the divorce can be enacted by one or both parties and proceedings begin immediately on the basis of ‘irretrievable breakdown’. There would be a minimum 20-week period for reflection, mediation or to start agreeing future arrangements before the Decree Nisi would be issued. The Decree Absolute could potentially then follow within six weeks, a total of just over 6 months from start to end.

The heat would further be taken out of the process by the removal of the ability to ‘contest’ the divorce. The government says this element is not only about reducing delays but also removing the ability for a domestic abuser to exercise further coercive control over their partner by preventing the divorce.

Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP said:
‘The institution of marriage will always be vitally important, but we must never allow a situation where our laws exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing.
‘Our reforms will stop divorcing couples having to make unnecessary allegations against one another and instead help them focus on separating amicably.
‘By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.’

Resolution, the organisation working to reduce conflict in family law, has long campaigned for the change to an ‘out-dated practice’ and has welcomed the move. It is hoped the removal of the ‘blame game’ will make the whole process more amicable for the separating couple, which could help improve relationships for future co-parenting, and to reduce the financial and emotional pressure by concluding maters more swiftly.

Anyone entering into divorce proceedings in the coming months will still be subject to the existing rules. But once the proposals have gone through Parliament and become law, solicitors will advise clients of the new circumstances. The changes will not impact the legal proceedings around the financial judgements or the decisions around the guardianship and residency of children.

For an informal discussion about any of the matters discussed here, please contact Mark Mosley, head of the Family Law Team at Vincents Solicitors.
Telephone 01772 205404