K J Smith Solicitors

Difficulties with ending a marriage - the case for a reform of divorce laws

Published: 26 June 2017

In the UK, there are approximately 110,000 divorces per year. And under UK law, for a divorce to be processed, there must be one of five factual explanations to support the filing of the divorce:

  1. One party has committed adultery.
  2. One party has behaved in an unreasonable way.
  3. One party has been deserted for at least 2 years.
  4. The two have lived separately for at least 2 years, with both parties consenting to a divorce.
  5. The two have lived separately for at least 5 years, with no consent required from the other party.

This therefore means that any couple seeking a divorce within the first 2 years of marriage are required to cite what is known as a ‘fault-based ground’. This involves placing the blame for the breakdown of the marriage on the other party, providing evidence of adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

Divorce laws in the United Kingdom

The legislation is now more than 40 years old following its introduction in 1973 and it is feared that whilst society has progressed, legislation hasn’t kept up with today's modern families. Almost 75% of divorces are now filed on a ‘fault-based ground’, with a large proportion of those being for unreasonable behaviour of one of the parties. It is thought that this is due to the lack of detail and evidence required for this option, and it is seen as possibly the easiest option for the parties to settle their divorce.

The actual process of the divorce is regarded by many as a reasonably straightforward procedure that consists of a series of forms and some legal fees. In a bid to make the process even simpler for couples, the Government are currently looking to streamline the required documentation, as well as encouraging people to file their petitions online.

A case for divorce law reforms

At a recent Court of Appeal hearing, Mrs Tini Owens lost her bid to be divorced from her estranged husband on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. Although they had separated in February 2015, Mr Hugh Owens decided that the marriage had not broken down as his wife had declared, or at least not in the way that Mrs Owens had suggested.

Despite Mrs Owens’ claims of frequent arguments, a lack of love and affection, and details of 27 specific allegations of unreasonable behaviour, the judge concluded that the divorce petition was hopeless and had no real substance. He then proceeded to order substantial costs against Mrs Owens, saying that he believed she had exaggerated her claims.

In this case, there was nothing the Court of Appeal could do, leading Sir James Munby, to question the law andcriticise its current form. And in the UK, as in many other countries, including America and Australia, many feel that it is time to introduce no-fault divorce laws in order to avoid cases such as this in the future.

For most family lawyers, it is against the code of conduct to encourage conflict; however that appears to be how the Owens’ case will end up. The case has now been taken to the Supreme Court, and Mrs Owens hopes that she won’t have to wait until the five-year period has passed before the divorce can be processed and all finances can be arranged.

If you are thinking about separation or divorce then K J Smith Solicitors can help. Our team will strive to deliver a positive outcome without conflict and 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) 01483 370100 (Guildford), 01494 629000 (Beaconsfield) or 01235 375500 (Abingdon).

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