The UK could see a huge shake-up in divorce law later this month as the No Fault Divorce Bill gets its second reading in the House of Commons.
The bill is due to be heard on 22 April, after being delayed at the end of last year, and could make divorce a far more civilised process for many people.
At the moment, divorce law is fault-based meaning that couples have to give one of five reasons for ending a marriage: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation with consent, or five years’ separation without consent.
The most common grounds given is unreasonable behaviour, which accounts for almost half of cases. Adultery is not always easy to prove, though it underlies many separations, and the other three grounds involve a delay. Therefore, couples who want a divorce as soon as possible tend to opt for these grounds – especially if there has been no adultery.
The current system has long been criticised for causing unncecessary conflict during divorce, which can often have harmful effects on any children. Neither does fault-based divorce prevent couples from breaking up. “It does not act as a deterrent, nor does it help couples to salvage their marriage. The latest data from the Office of National Statistics shows that 114,720 people divorced in England and Wales in 2013, despite fault-based petitions,” commented Resolution chair Jo Edwards.
Ms Edwards added: “If MPs are serious about reducing family conflict and the trauma that can be caused by divorce, I would urge them to support the bill as a welcome step towards removing the requirement of fault from divorce. Removing the blame from divorce, as proposed in Richard Bacon’s bill, would help couples who both wish to bring their relationship to a dignified conclusion and move on with their lives without the need for accusatory mud-slinging. This outdated system needs urgent revision – a civilised society deserves a civilised divorce process.”
As things stand, a substantial proportion of couples make false allegations in court in order to secure a divorce. Research carried out by polling organisation YouGov shows that over a quarter of divorcing couples who asserted blame in their divorce petition admitted that the accusation of fault was not true. However, this was seen as the easiest way to secure a divorce.
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