Under the existing legislation, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, individuals seeking to obtain a divorce have to rely on one of the five available facts to prove that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Two facts that are commonly encountered and relied upon in practice are that of unreasonable behaviour and adultery thereby causing a petitioner to have to ‘blame’ their spouse for the divorce.
The new legislation is based upon results of public consultation, and would extend the grounds for divorce whilst retaining the concept of irretrievable breakdown. The changes would preserve the two stage process known as decree nisi and decree absolute; however there will now be an option for a joint application for divorce.
Changes to the existing divorce law in England and Wales would establish a minimum six month time frame, enabling couples to reflect on decisions, as well as a abolishing the ability to contest a divorce.
The need for evidence to probe desertion, adultery or unreasonable behaviour would be replaced by a statement of irretrievable breakdown.
The justice secretary David Gauke has stated that legislation for no fault divorce will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time is available in order to end the blame game during martial breakdowns.
The Ministry of Justice stated that changes would be introduced “as soon as time allows.” Labour has also supported the proposals for changing the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, with parallel changes being made to laws governing the dissolution of civil partnerships.
Chief Executive of relationship charity Relate, Aidan Jones, agrees that changes are much needed to the outdated fault-based law. “The current divorce system leads parting couples to apportion blame, often resulting in increased animosity. We also support the extension of the minimum timeframe, which allows more time to reflect and explore mediation.”
If the proposed legislation comes into force individuals seeking to petition for a divorce will no longer be required to blame their spouse for the breakdown of the marriage or alternatively wait until they have been separated for two years before they can divorce.
If the proposal goes ahead, divorce may become slightly less stressful and less contentious.
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