Following news headlines on the introduction of a no fault divorce, Elise Alma, Partner in Coodes Solicitors’ Family Team comments on a Government consultation on the divorce process.
I cannot have been the only person who had to look twice at the recent headlines on divorce law. “Couples will be allowed no fault divorce…” claimed the Daily Mail, while the Independent stated “Law set to be overhauled to avoid ‘unnecessary antagonism’.”
As is often the case, the situation is more complex than the headlines suggest. There has as yet been no change to divorce laws. There is, however, now to be a consultation on whether or not we need legal changes to enable couples to have a no fault divorce.
Why do we need a consultation on no fault divorce?
As my colleague Elise Alma recently wrote in a blog, pressure has been mounting on the Government to look at the issue. Many people, myself included, feel that divorce laws are outdated and unnecessarily confrontational. Although many couples simply drift apart or mutually agree they can no longer live together, divorce laws still require one spouse to blame the other on one of a number of specific grounds. The issue came to a head following media reports of the recent case of Tini Owens, whose husband refused to grant her a divorce.
Reports state that the Ministry of Justice is now preparing to launch a public consultation on the issue.
Does the entire divorce process need an overhaul?
Changing our divorce laws to allow for a no fault divorce would involve a major legal change. Once the consultation is underway, I believe it could open up debate around other matrimonial law. Divorce laws are so outdated that they do not now really fit with the 21st century marriage. For example, the definition of adultery only includes sexual relations between members of the opposite sex. This means it is currently not possible for a same sex couple to divorce on the grounds of adultery. The consultation may also raise a number of issues around financial provision in divorce, which is currently based on laws from the 1970s.
I also think we need to consider whether or not it is right to remove the right for someone to challenge a divorce petition, which is something that could happen if a no fault divorce is introduced.
These are complex laws and the challenge is to find a way to update them to ensure they are fit for purpose in the 21st century.
How long will the consultation take?
No end date has been announced for the consultation, so we do not know how long the process will take. A consultation, particularly on a sensitive issue such as this, is often followed by a lengthy debate process.
While I welcome the consultation, this is likely to be a slow and involved process, so any legal changes could be a long way down the line.
For advice on any of these issues please contact Elise Alma in the Family Team at Coodes Solicitors, on 01637 878111 or email@example.com