No-fault divorce headlines appeared all over UK news feeds and social media timelines on Friday September 7th, amid rumours that the UK government is about to launch a formal consultation process on no-fault divorce in England and Wales.
The rumours came from an unlikely source, as BuzzFeed News journalist Alex Wickham broke the apparently exclusive story – so what exactly is being proposed?
According to the BuzzFeed News article, a UK government consultation on no-fault divorce is currently being finalised which will address such areas as:
- Removing the five current reasons for a claim of irretrievable breakdown of a marriage.
- Reducing the timescale from initial breakdown to divorce to as little as six months.
- Removing the right for the spouse to contest an application for divorce.
It is also worth noting that Mr Wickham’s article claims any changes made would be applied equally to civil partnerships, potentially making it much easier to get a no-fault dissolution of civil partnership in the years to come too.
Many other national news outlets reported the story on Friday and over the weekend, citing the BuzzFeed article as their source, although the Ministry of Justice did not make any formal announcement or response to the claims in that time.
Why now for a no-fault divorce consultation?
There are several good reasons why now is the right time to launch a no-fault divorce consultation, with a view to removing some of the stricter limitations on when and how it is possible to apply for a divorce or to dissolve a civil partnership.
First of all, with the introduction of civil partnerships and same-sex marriage in relatively recent years, the law surrounding marriage and lifetime partnerships has already changed somewhat, and that means there is arguably more of an opportunity to change the law on divorce in England and Wales too.
Headline cases like that of Tini Owens, forced by the Supreme Court to remain in a loveless marriage, have put no-fault divorce firmly on the agenda – with even the Supreme Court urging the government to consider changing the law in their ruling on Owens’ case.
As experienced divorce mediators, we at Marcia Mediation see the additional stress that can be introduced by attempting to make one party take the blame for the breakdown of a marriage, including when this is done purely as a way to get around some of the longer timescales placed on divorce in England and Wales.
Interestingly, there appears to be cross-party support for the proposed changes, with Labour’s shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon telling BuzzFeed News he would prefer to see new laws introduced faster and without consultation.
He said: “Instead of yet another consultation, the Conservatives should get on with changing our divorce laws so that they are fit for the 21st century.”