A new no-fault divorce law has been unveiled by the UK Government, to be introduced as soon as it can be passed through Parliament.
In a recent public consultation, the government found widespread support to allow couples to separate legally without one partner taking the blame for adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
Under existing laws in England, there are only a few acceptable grounds for divorce:
- Adultery (unless the couple reconciled for over six months afterwards)
- Unreasonable behaviour (abuse, addiction or a lack of financial contribution)
- Desertion (for more than two years in a 2.5-year period)
- Separation (for at least two years and with both partners’ agreement)
- Separation (for over five years, even if one partner disagrees)
In general the ‘faster’ of these options require one partner to take the blame, and lead to a disproportionate number of divorce petitions citing unreasonable behaviour – 46.4% in 2016-18.
How fast is no-fault divorce?
A key factor in the new no-fault divorce law unveiled on April 9th 2019 is the timescale involved in obtaining a decree absolute, which legally ends the marriage.
The terms of this new no-fault divorce law impose a total timeframe of around six months, including:
- 20 weeks from petition to decree nisi.
- 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute.
Although this means couples will face around half a year to end a marriage without blame, it is much faster than the current two-year ‘no fault’ options to divorce by separation.
The minimum six-month timescale also intends to provide time for reflection and preparation, so couples can either make the necessary arrangements for the future, or could potentially change their mind if they decide to reconcile.
Cutting conflict between couples
Detailing the reasons behind the new no-blame divorce law, justice secretary David Gauke said: “Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.
“While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.
“So I have listened to calls for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame game for good.”
The new no-blame divorce law also enables individuals to petition for divorce without their partner being able to contest the application to prevent them from leaving, which can be a problem particularly in abusive and coercive relationships.
Positive steps for amicable divorce
While no-fault divorce has its critics who are concerned that it could make it too easy to end a marriage, overall the benefits for those currently ‘trapped’ in an unhappy marriage are substantial.
Through this new law, no-blame divorces should be:
- More amicable
By reducing the burden of proof and the stress of blame, no-fault divorce should make separation less emotionally challenging and perhaps allow more divorced couples to remain amicable and in contact either as friends or for the sake of their children.
The government announcement said: “The new legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows.”
At Marcia Mediation we will be watching closely to see how this law progresses through Parliament to gain Royal Assent, and are happy to advise couples on the implications for your current or future plans to separate.