Friday’s big announcement that the government is to overhaul our divorce laws was music to the ears of family solicitors like me.
Finally, we have taken a giant leap towards removing blame from the legal process and we might eventually see couples separating more quickly and with less acrimony.
The news comes just two months after the case of Tini Owens was reported widely in the media. She was denied a divorce by the Supreme Court after her husband of 40 years disputed the case, as it was deemed that a “joyless” marriage is not adequate grounds under current legislation. Whilst the judges were reluctant to find in Mr Owens’ favour, they decreed it is not their place to change the law.
Thankfully, the government was listening and the justice secretary, David Gauke, is now beginning a consultation into ‘no fault’ divorce.
He is proposing to remove the concept of blame from the process, which would also mean spouses could lose the right to contest the action. But with the exception of Mr Owens, it is very rare for one party to defend their right to stay married. Most people take the hint!
After campaigning for years with our colleagues at Resolution, the body that represents family solicitors, my colleagues and I are really pleased to see parliament finally giving time to this issue.
Although it seems to me the most obvious piece of legislation to introduce, there are opponents who feel it undermines the institution of marriage. In my experience, it won’t encourage more people to divorce, but will simply remove some of the stress and anxiety caused by assigning blame to the process.
We’ve been here before…
Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself, however.
In 1990, the Law Commission recommended the introduction of no fault divorce and it was nearly implemented six years later, alongside compulsory ‘information meetings’ that were meant to encourage reconciliation. Sadly, after a pilot scheme was run, the idea was deemed unworkable and plans to change the law were abandoned.
This time, the prospects for the amended legislation look a lot brighter. The proposals are based on a simple notification system and after a defined period, a divorce will be granted, if one party still believes the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Part of the consultation will be to determine how long this waiting time should be, but six months has been discussed and would certainly seem fair to me.
This is a landmark moment for divorce law. Now dialogue is beginning, the momentum is there to see these changes through to fruition. Let’s hope they come quickly enough to stop anyone else having to suffer like Mrs Owens.