For many years, family lawyers have campaigned for the introduction of a no fault divorce as this will enable couples to separate without having to apportion blame to one another. Under the current law, if couples do not wish to apportion blame they have to wait until they have been separated for two years before they can start divorce proceedings.

However, on 8 June 2020 MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the latest stage of The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Bill which, when passed, will end the need for couples to apportion blame.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “Where divorce is inevitable, this bill seeks to make the legal process less painful.”

The current divorce law is over 50 years old and too often creates conflict, which of course can have a detrimental impact on children. For some time, family lawyers have been urgently calling for a new divorce procedure which does not apportion blame. Ninety percent of family lawyers agree that the current law makes it harder for them to reduce conflict and confrontation between clients and their ex-partners.

Following the much-publicised case in July 2018, when Mrs Owens was denied her divorce on the basis that her petition had not set out that her marriage had broken down irretrievably, the government published a consultation paper entitled “Reducing Family Conflict: Reform of the Legal Requirement for Divorce”.

The legislation proposed would implement the following key changes:

  1. Whilst irretrievable breakdown would remain as the sole ground for divorce the need to provide evidence of separation or conduct by the other party has been removed and all that will simply be required is a statement confirming irretrievable breakdown.
  2. It will no longer be possible to argue against the basis of the divorce that the marriage has not broken down and there will only be very specific circumstances in which a petition can be argued against.
  3. It will be possible for both of the parties to make an application together, so one person does not have to petition the other, as is the current situation.
  4. The language used will be modernised, the outdated terms such as Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute will be removed and terms such as Conditional Order and Final Order will be seen instead.

Although the two-stage divorce process will remain, the time scales for obtaining a divorce will broadly be 26 weeks. This will be based on a minimum time frame of 20 weeks from petition to Decree Nisi and 6 weeks between Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute.

How quickly we will see new legislation family practitioners are waiting to see, however, what is clear is that this change is very much needed and long called for.

Margaret Heathcote, chair of Resolution, a professional organisation that advocates a non-confrontational approach to family law, said: “No fault divorce will ensure more families are able to come to long-lasting, amicable and constructive agreements which benefit everyone involved, particularly children.”

This view is very much echoed by the Family & Mediation team at Stone King.