Brexit - not the only 'Divorce' on the political agenda.

Whilst Brexit is undoubtedly a common theme amongst the main political parties in the run up to the General Election on 8 June, it is not the only ‘divorce’ with which politicians and voters are concerned. Both Labour and the Lib Dems have set out in their manifestos their support for reform in current legislation to provide for so-called ‘no fault divorce’. At the time of writing, the Conservative party’s manifesto has not yet been announced. However, it may be worth noting that Tory MP Richard Bacon brought a motion on the subject which was debated in the House of Commons in October 2015, and various organisations, including Resolution, have called on the present government to support no fault divorce in recent months, particularly since the well-publicised case of Owens v Owens.

The introduction of no-fault divorce would involve a change in current legislation to remove the need for a party to allege fault or blame for the breakdown of the marriage on the part of the other. At present, a couple can only get divorced without apportioning blame if they have been separated for two years or more and both parties consent to the divorce, or, if only one party wants the divorce, they have been separated for five years or more. In all other cases, the party beginning the court proceedings (the ‘Petitioner’) must show that the other party (the ‘Respondent’) is at fault by committing adultery or behaving unreasonably so that the Petitioner should not be expected to continue to live with them, or deserting the Petitioner for two years or more.

Supporters of no fault divorce believe that removing the need to allege fault will enable couples to manage their separation with the minimum conflict and stress, thereby lessening the negative impact on any children. It would also avoid situations such as that in the Owens case, in which a wife petitioned for divorce on the basis of her husband’s alleged unreasonable behaviour. The husband defended the divorce, and, following a hearing, a judge deemed that the particulars of behaviour alleged were not unreasonable enough to deem the marriage to be irretrievably broken down. As the couple had not been separated for five years (so the divorce could not proceed with only one party’s consent) and the allegations of behaviour were deemed insufficient, the divorce was refused.

Those who oppose no fault divorce may argue that its introduction would increase the rate of marital breakdown. However, there are many other countries that already have a similar system where fault does not have to be alleged, including Scotland, Australia, Spain, The Netherlands, and much of the USA. Whilst there was a slight rise in the number of people filing for divorce following the change of the law in Scotland, within two years the rate had reverted back to the level before the reform.

A YouGov poll in February 2017 found that 69% of the public supported no fault divorce. It is certainly an issue that is on the radar of all of the major political parties, and we  will be watching closely to see whether a change in the law follows, whoever wins the General Election on 8 June.

Another pressing family law issue for the parties to consider is the law relating to cohabiting couples. Figures show that nearly 10% of the population live with a partner with whom they are not married. Many people believe that there is such a thing as a ‘common law’ husband or wife, and that they would have some legal rights as a result of their cohabitation in the event that the relationship broke down. However, this is not the case under the current legislation, and the next government will need to consider how to address an issue that affects such a large proportion of the public.

To discuss divorce or other family law related matters please do not hesitate to email us or use the form to the right and we will call at a time to suit you.