Since the Matrimonial Clauses Act 1973 in England and Wales, anyone who wants a divorce has had to prove that their partner is at fault. Committing adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour could all be submitted as proof that a partner had caused the break down of marriage. If a person couldn’t prove these, or a partner instead blamed them for the break down of the marriage, couples would have to wait through two years of separation to be able to get a divorce.
If no consent was given for the divorce by a partner, someone would have to wait 5 years before a divorce can happen. Understandably, things can get messy, and putting pressure on someone to prove that their partner was acting unreasonably puts extra stress on the situation.
While no-fault divorces were first introduced by the Family Law Act 1996, this was deemed unworkable and it was repealed and shelved.
Thankfully, things are beginning to change. This has been spurred on by the 2018 Tini Owens case, where the Supreme Court ruled that Tini Owens could not divorce her husband until a period of five years had elapsed. In July 2018, the Court ruled that her husband’s behaviour couldn’t be considered unreasonable, leaving Tini trapped in a marriage she no longer wanted.
Following this, Justice Secretary David Gaulke launched a consultation with the aim of reforming the current law, which received overwhelming support. A bill now needs to be brought before Parliament, allowing couples to get divorced without allocating blame. This is expected to be introduced in the coming months.
How does no-fault divorce work in the US?
To get some idea of how no-fault divorce may work in the UK, it’s worth looking at the US for an example. The US specifies no-fault divorce as someone that’s filing for a divorce while not having to prove any fault on the part of the other partner. The most common reasons given for no-fault divorce are “irreconcilable differences” or an “irreparable breakdown of the marriage”. A partner can’t object to the no-fault divorce, as this can be seen by the court as an “irreconcilable difference”.
No-fault divorces are recognised in all US states, although some states require that spouses live separately for a designated period before they are allowed to file for a divorce.
We don’t know the exact details of how no-fault divorce will work if it becomes law in the UK, but it’s likely that divorcing couples will no longer have to provide a reason to the court for why they want a divorce. It may also include a requirement that a person need only provide their partner with notice of the divorce, rather than requiring consent to it as is the current law.
Whatever the law ends up being, you can be sure that solicitors across the UK will be able to provide support with no-fault divorce in the future. For now, couples must go through the normal divorce proceedings and seek advice from divorce solicitors in order to proceed.