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New no-fault divorce law to end 'blame game'

This week, Justice Secretary David Gauke pledged new legislation will be introduced where divorcing couples will no longer have to blame one another for their marital breakdown.

This reform follows on from the landmark Tini Owens case in which the Supreme Court ruled Ms Owens failed to demonstrate her relationship had broken down because of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour and could not divorce Mr Owens until five years had passed.

Changes to the outdated divorce laws would establish a minimum six-month timeframe for couples to ‘reflect’ on their decision and remove the ability to contest a divorce.

What are the current grounds for divorce?

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, spouses are forced to prove their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour. If both parties agree to the divorce, they must be separated for two years. Where there is no fault or consent to the divorce, applicants are required to wait until they have been living apart for five years.

Ministers are acting to update the 50-year-old divorce laws after a public consultation found the current system works against any prospect of reconciliation, in addition to having a damaging effect on children by undermining the parent’s relationship.

Critics also believe that the fault-based system forces parties to accuse each other of bad behaviour if they do not want to wait years before obtaining a divorce.

The Justice Secretary stated:

“Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.

“While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.”

The Ministry of Justice has said the new no-fault divorce laws will be introduced ‘as soon as parliamentary time allows’.

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