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Divorce – Parliament considers ‘no fault divorce’ bill

Divorce 22.01.2016

Second reading of no fault divorce bill 22.01.2016

Divorce Update

On 13 October 2015, a Bill providing for a ‘no fault divorce’ passed its first reading in the House of Commons. The thought behind the bill is that removing the need to establish fault to obtain a divorce would reduce the level of acrimony and bitterness between divorcing spouses but would not necessarily speed up the procedure to obtain a divorce.

The Bill will receive its second reading debate in the House of Commons on 22 January 2016.

Proposed changes to Divorces

The proposed changes would involve adding a sixth fact in order to establish irretrievable breakdown of a marriage:

  • namely that both parties agree that their marriage has broken down irretrievably,
  • in which event there would be no need for any period of separation before commencing divorce proceedings,
  • or to blame the other spouse for the breakdown of the marriage.

At present, the only ground for divorce is that a marriage has broken down irretrievably. However, in order to establish irretrievable breakdown, a person applying for a divorce must prove one or more of five ‘facts’:

  • adultery,
  • unreasonable behaviour,
  • desertion for two years or more
  • periods of separation of at least two years (plus the other spouse’s agreement to the divorce) or
  • at least five years’ separation, whether or not the other spouse agrees to the divorce.

There are equivalent provisions for civil partners, save that there is no fact of adultery in relation to civil partnership dissolution.

One spouse/civil partner must be the ‘Petitioner’ (the person who brings the divorce/dissolution proceedings), the other the ‘Respondent’ to the divorce/dissolution.

The present law can cause issues for divorcing couples who have come to the decision that a marriage has broken down irretrievably:

  • most people do not want to have to wait at least two years to initiate divorce proceedings.
  • It is for this reason that most divorce petitions are conduct-based and that the other spouse’s alleged ‘unreasonable behaviour’ is the most usual fact relied on to establish irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
  • This often involves the alleged reasons for the marital breakdown being condensed into a few potentially one-sided paragraphs in the  petition.
  • However sensitively drafted and mild these behaviour particulars are from a lawyer’s point of view:
    • they will invariably be deeply hurtful to the other spouse,
    • increase the emotional distress,
    • increase the legal costs between the couple.

Although it is as yet uncertain as to whether the proposed change to the law will take place,  it has again highlighted the unsatisfactory state of our divorce law.

If you are concerned about how this may affect you, or if you wish to divorce, please contact us for more information.


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