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Is divorce law in England and Wales about to change?

Divorce in England and Wales could soon undergo a fundamental and, many would argue, long overdue change: the UK government are set to launch consultations which could lead to the introduction of no-fault divorce as well as prevent spouses that may disagree from contesting divorce applications.

Currently, unless a couple have been separated for two years and agree to the divorce (five years if one party disputes it) then blame will need to be apportioned to one party. This means that the party that is blamed for the breakdown of the marriage will be accused of either adultery or having behaved so unreasonably that their spouse could no longer be expected to remain married to them.

Critics of the current setup – including solicitors and judges – have long criticised it, arguing that it can cause unnecessary conflict. Others have also pointed out that several surveys and studies have revealed that most couples separate because they have simply fallen out of love with one another and that the two years such couples must wait before they are able to obtain a divorce is excessive. Furthermore, detractors have cited recent statistics that revealed that as many as a third of Divorce Petitions relying on behaviour-based grounds contain false claims fabricated by couples in order to circumvent time limits.

All in all, the vast majority of commentators agree that removing blame from the divorce process would be positive.  This and the recent case of Tini and Hugh Owens would suggest that this matter has reached a tipping point and that legislators will listen and update laws that many view as outdated. There are still some who oppose changes to divorce law and identical legislation almost came into force more than two decades ago in 1997.

The argument against no-fault divorce

Those who are most prominently and vocally opposed to no-fault divorce include religious organisations and the socially conservative. They argue that it will undermine the institution of marriage, that divorce inevitably harms any children that may be involved and that the demise of the traditional nuclear family has led to various social ills such as an increase in crime, anti-social behaviour etc.

Whilst there are those who will inevitably oppose the introduction of no-fault divorce, however, we firmly believe that, on this occasion, the relevant legislation will both be passed and come into force. Society is more liberal meaning it’d be a less risky move for the incumbent government and, more importantly, there is no evidence to suggest changing divorce law would have a substantive effect on the rate at which people end their marriage or their emotional wellbeing.  

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