Select Page

Justice Secretary confirms plans to reduce conflict in divorce

Couples wishing to divorce will soon benefit from a less confrontational process, under proposals confirmed by the Justice Secretary David Gauke.

placeholder
  • government acts to reduce family conflict in the divorce process
  • new process to remove need for couples to have been separated or to allege ‘fault’ in order to obtain divorce
  • spouses would no longer be able to contest the divorce application

The government is taking action to end the ‘blame game’ for separating couples, with new proposals to help families instead focus on key practical decisions and look to the future.

At present, divorcing couples are forced to blame each other for the marriage breakdown on the grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’, adultery or desertion, or prove they have been separated for a minimum of 2 years – even if the separation is mutual. If the divorce is contested, and a spouse cannot prove ‘fault’, then couples currently have to wait 5 years before a divorce is granted.

Ministers want to reduce the antagonism of citing fault and the anxiety it creates, at an already trying time for couples and their children.

Therefore, a new notification process will allow people to notify the court of the intent to divorce, whilst removing the opportunity for the other spouse to contest it.

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.

The proposals are set out in a government consultation launched today (15 September 2018), and will apply to marriages and civil partnerships.

Proposals detailed in the consultation include:

  • retaining the sole ground for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage
  • removing the need to show evidence of the other spouse’s conduct, or a period of living apart
  • introducing a new notification process where one, or possibly both parties, can notify the court of the intention to divorce
  • removing the opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce application

The consultation also seeks views on the minimum timeframe for the process between the interim decree of divorce (decree nisi) and final decree of divorce (decree absolute). This will allow couples time to reflect on the decision to divorce and to reach agreement on arrangements for the future where divorce is inevitable.

Today’s announcement delivers on the Justice Secretary’s commitment to reform these aspects of divorce law, and bring the UK in line with other countries who already have similar procedures.

Reform of the legal requirements for divorce – Ministry of Justice – Citizen Space

Overview

The breakdown of a marriage is a difficult time for families. The decision to divorce is often a very painful one. Where children are involved, the effects in particular where there is ongoing conflict, can be profound.

Under current law in England and Wales, couples must either live apart for a substantial period of time before they may divorce, or else they must make allegations about their spouse’s conduct. This is sometimes perceived as showing that the other spouse is “at fault”.

Both routes can cause further stress and upset for the divorcing couple, to the detriment of outcomes for them and any children. There have been wide calls to reform the law to address these concerns, often framed as removing the concept of “fault”.

The Government therefore proposes to reform the legal requirements for divorce so that it is consistent with the approach taken in other areas of family law, and to shift the focus from blame and recrimination to support adults better to focus on making arrangements for their own futures and for their children’s. The reformed law should have two objectives: to make sure that the decision to divorce continues to be a considered one, and that spouses have an opportunity to change course; and to make sure that divorcing couples are not put through legal requirements which do not serve their or society’s interests and which can lead to conflict and accordingly poor outcomes for children.

This consultation proposes adjusting what the law requires to bring a legal end to a marriage that has broken down irretrievably. This adjustment includes removing the ability to allege “fault”. The consultation seeks views on the detail of how best to change the law to reduce family conflict and strengthen family responsibility.