On 17th May 2018, many family lawyers from around the country campaigned for the law to change so that the ‘no fault’ divorce becomes part of matrimonial law in England and Wales.
The campaign was launched by Resolution First for Family Law which is an organisation of family lawyers in England and Wales aimed at reducing conflict and offering best practice when dealing with divorcing couples.
Our current law is extremely archaic and has not changed since 1973. As it stands, for a married couple to get divorced within the first two years of separation, one person has to be blamed for the breakdown of the relationship as a result of either their behaviour or adultery. This goes completely against everything as an organisation Resolution stands for. It also contradicts other changes in the law that the government have pushed through aimed at keeping couples out of court such as the mandatory mediation requirement. As a law firm specialising in mediation, we often work with separated couples seeking a non-confrontational method of resolving their family law issues. As a mediator, my role is to facilitate discussions which are future focused and the fault based divorce only serves to hinder that process.
The divorce ‘blame game’ only increases the hostility and conflict between separating couples and this is particularly damaging when children are involved as it can affect the parties’ ability to co-parent. A no fault divorce would enable couples to end their marriage based upon their own belief that the marriage has irretrievably broken down (for whatever reason) but without having to point the finger at the other person.
The 17th May 2018 was a key date in family law, as it was the date the Supreme Court heard the case of Owens vs Owens. In this case Tini Owens was originally denied her divorce petition by the Court, which was contested by her husband Hugh Owens, because the judge deemed the behaviour cited in the petition as not sufficient to justify a divorce. So despite the fact that Mrs Owens herself clearly felt that her marriage had irretrievably broken down, because the behaviour cited against her husband did not go far enough, the judge was not prepared to allow her to divorce her husband and end her “loveless and desperately unhappy marriage”. In my view this case clearly highlights the complete adequacy of the current “fault-based” divorce in modern times and the need for change.
Mrs Owens appealed the decision however the Court of Appeal refused the wife’s appeal stating that although some may say there is a need for a no fault divorce, the current law had been correctly applied by the judge. The Supreme Court granted Mrs Owens permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision and the case came before the Supreme Court on 17th May for a final determination. The judgment is awaited.
Meanwhile, family lawyers around the country are calling for the Government to change the law and introduce the no-fault divorce. It is entirely unacceptable in today’s times for a person to have to put their life on hold and wait 2 years to divorce just because they don’t want to blame their estranged spouse. The case of Owens v Owens also illustrates how wrong it is that the court still has a role in deciding whether someone’s behaviour is sufficient grounds to warrant a divorce or whether a person should be locked into a marriage against their will.
At Consilia Legal, we along with other family law firms throughout England and Wales are playing our part to campaign for the no fault divorce and bring it into the spotlight. We have already written to our local MP to stress the need for current law to be reformed and inviting their support.