Published: 4 March 2016
There has been much debate over the years as to whether the UK should adopt a 'no fault divorce' system. Although other countries have successfully adopted this system, the postponement of the second reading of the No Fault Divorce Bill to 11th March 2016 suggests it is still some way off. But would a 'no fault divorce' option actually benefit the UK?
The No Fault Divorce Bill was proposed by MP Richard Bacon to introduce an extra ground for legal separation to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 that would allow couples to divorce without assigning blame. The current divorce law in the UK states that a couple wishing to divorce can do so providing that the reason meets one of five criteria which include adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion for two years or more or the couple has been separated and living apart continuously for either two or five years.
This new Private Members Bill is not the first time a 'no fault divorce' system has been proposed in the UK. An attempt to amend the law on fault-based divorces was quickly dismissed by the incoming Labour government following the General Election in May 1997.
Since that time, calls for a 'no fault divorce' system have continued. Whilst there are some that object to a faultless divorce system on the grounds that it will become much easier to divorce, there is evidence to suggest that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
One of the main problems with the current divorce system is that separating couples are required to fulfil one of the five criteria as to why their marriage has broken down, which can lead to couples asserting false blame so that a divorce can be obtained quickly. A recent YouGov survey revealed that 52% of divorces were based on fault in the UK and that some 27% of couples who asserted blame admitted the allegation of fault was actually false – this could apply to almost 20,000 divorce petitions over the past four years.
The main opposition to a faultless divorce system comes from religious groups and traditionalists who fear that divorcing will become much easier and therefore more prevalent. There is no evidence to suggest that this will happen, for example, the US has had a faultless divorce system for a number of years and, in that time, divorce rates have actually decreased. Many believe that the main reason for this is that the system encourages couples to separate amicably and stops them 'throwing mud' at each other, allowing them more time to think about their relationships whilst trying to resolve their differences in a non-confrontational way.
It is also believed that a 'no fault divorce' system would greatly benefit the children of couples who decide to divorce. Those couples that are expected to use the no-fault option may have previously cited 'unreasonable behaviour' as their reason for divorcing. Couples who choose this option – for want of a better alternative – may initially decide to separate on good terms, but find the act of listing their ex-partner’s shortcomings stirs up resentment. A 'no fault divorce' system would offer these couples a better alternative and allow them to part on truly amicable terms, which is clearly in the interests of their children.
A 'no fault divorce' system could also help to ease the pressure on the current family judicial system as it would make divorce settlements far more efficient. As part of the No Fault Divorce Bill, it has also been proposed that couples enter into a 12 month 'cooling off' period to allow time for reflection before the divorce is granted. This extended period may even help some couples to work out their differences and, in some cases, may help to save their relationship in the long run.
A faultless divorce system might also have a positive social impact. Divorce has always had a certain stigma attached, with some people seeing it as shameful or as a failure – a perception that may be exacerbated by the requirement to blame one party. Having a faultless system would allow couples to part without blame and with dignity.
The UK could certainly benefit from a no-fault divorce system and the wave of support for this change suggests that it is only a matter of time.
If your relationship is on the verge of a breakdown and you are unsure of the options available to you then K J Smith Solicitors are here to help. Our team of family law specialists work with you to deliver practical solutions and overcome conflict in the most amicable way possible. For more information or to arrange a free 45 minute consultation, please contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) or 01483 370100 (Guildford).