No-fault divorce – reforms to end the “blame game” between couples

Posted on: September 22nd, 2020

In June a bill introducing “no-fault” divorces in England and Wales was backed by MPs. Currently, in order to start divorce proceedings immediately, one spouse has to allege adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. Under the proposed law, they will only have to state that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Although the no-fault rules will not come into force until Autumn 2021 they are eagerly anticipated. Coffin Mew family law expert, Marie Stock, shares her thoughts on this forthcoming landmark legislation.

Over lock-down, I started listening to a podcast called “You’ll Do”. Each week, a famous couple is interviewed on the state of their relationship. In order to put their guests at ease, the hosts (also a couple) take it in turns to describe how they have wound each other up that previous week. For example “this week, you made me feel grumpy because you kept making me do things and go places and see people”.

This got me thinking. A lot. I started to wonder what behaviour my own spouse finds annoying/ frustrating/unreasonable. I decided to take the plunge for the purposes of research and ask the (some might say dangerous) question, “what annoys you about me?” The response:- “you are too tidy”.  I suppose there are worst insults. And frankly, I share a first name with the queen of tidy (Marie Kondo).

According to the Office of National Statistics, around 51.9% of wives and 36.8% of husbands cited “unreasonable behaviour” as the reason for their divorce in 2018.  The Respondent to each of those “fault based” petitions will no doubt have had to read a damning list of reasons as to why their behaviour has caused the marriage to breakdown. In my experience as a lawyer, this personal attack never goes down too well. People don’t like hearing about their own character flaws, least of all in writing, on an official court form. It tends to create an instant defensive reflex, which can then lead to intense anger. This hardly sets the right tone for an amicable discussion about where the children will live or how the matrimonial finances will be divided. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by the Nuffield Trust, 70% of divorcees who had “fault based” divorces found that this made the process “more bitter”. 

Thankfully, times are changing. This year the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was passed by the House of Lords. Royal Assent is expected to be granted in the autumn of 2021. This will enable parties to jointly petition for divorce the basis that the marriage has broken down “irretrievably”, without the requirement to cite reasons in support.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said of the bill: “We will always uphold the institution of marriage. But when divorce cannot be avoided, the law must not create conflict between couples that so often harms the children involved.”

In my view, even if you are going your separate ways, you should try to treat your ex spouse with dignity, respect and human decency so that you can carefully consider how your future apart will become a reality, taking into account the best interests of your children at all times.  What we will hopefully see in 2021 as a result of the new legislation, is a more peaceful start to the divorce process.

I wholeheartedly believe that divorce does not have to be a catastrophic event if you commit to removing yourself from the temptation to sling mud and cast blame. Let that be my parting thought… I’m away to tidy my sock drawer.

If you have any further questions about no-fault divorce or the content of this article, the Family Team at Coffin Mew would be happy to help so please do get in touch.

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