As a member of Resolution, I am delighted that the Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which will provide for no-fault divorce, has just had its second reading debate in Parliament. The Bill received overwhelming support across party lines and passed second reading without a vote.
The Bill now moves into Committee stage, and Resolution will continue to brief MPs about the benefits of the Bill. I have written to and requested to meet with my local MP, Dominic Grieve, to discuss what this means to family lawyers and to encourage his support for the Bill.
Owens v Owens
The landmark case of Owens v Owens, which was determined by the Supreme Court in 2018, paved the way for an overhaul of the current system and gave rise to the need for reform. Mr and Mrs Owens married in 1978 and have two adult children. With the marriage experiencing difficulties, Mrs Owens first consulted her solicitor about a divorce in June 2012. In February 2015, Mrs Owens moved out of the former matrimonial home, and the parties have not lived together since. They are now 80 and 68 respectively.
In May 2015 Mrs Owens filed a divorce petition based on Mr Owens’ unreasonable behaviour. Mrs Owens gave examples of incidents evidencing this. Such petitions usually proceed without any real issue or scrutiny, however Mr Owens decided to defend the petition and argued at trial that the reasons given by Mrs Owen were not sufficient to satisfy the current test. While the Judge found that the marriage had broken down irretrievably and that Mrs Owens could not continue to live with Mr Owens, he ultimately agreed with Mr Owens that the particulars of behaviour were not sufficient and dismissed the petition. Mrs Owens appealed first to the Court of Appeal, who dismissed the appeal, the to the Supreme Court who unanimously dismissed the appeal.
Family lawyers were dismayed by this outcome. With so many of us working hard to reduce conflict for families where at all possible, having a law that only serves to increase it is unacceptable.
What does no-fault divorce mean for you?
Essentially, once the Bill is passed and receives the Royal Assent, it will mean that couples can divorce without giving a reason. Currently, there is only one ground for divorce in England and Wales, and that is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This ground needs to be supported by using one of five facts. Three of those facts are based on periods of separation of two years or more. In the case of a two-year separation, the Petitioner requires the consent of the Respondent. The two remaining facts are adultery and unreasonable behaviour.
Many divorcing couples do not wish to inflame an already difficult situation by particularising examples of unreasonable behaviour in their divorce petition, but equally do not wish to be locked in a marriage they no longer want to be in. No-fault divorce would effectively end the blame game and, in my view, reduce acrimony in the divorce and associated financial and children matters. The current law simply ignores the impact this may have on family relationships and particularly on the children. Whilst this change will clearly not eradicate negativity in divorce proceedings, I hope that it will mean that we no longer have situations where the reasons cited in a divorce petition, arising from the limitations within the current law, will negatively impact on how couples approach arrangements for their children and the division of matrimonial finances.
I very much hope that with the introduction of the proposed Divorce, Dissolution and Separation legislation, we can move towards a more constructive and non-confrontational divorce process.
LLB Hons – Solicitor
Head of Family Department
Cartmell & Co Solicitors
To make an appointment to discuss any family matter, please contact my assistant, Chloe Judge on 01494 870075.
Chalfont St Giles: 01494 870075 | Great Missenden: 01494 923923 | Stone: 01296 747151