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No Fault Divorce: The Need-to-Knows

In recent years, the media has published numerous newspaper and magazine articles that focus on contentious and less than amicable splits that lead to bitter divorces played out in the solicitor’s office and court.

To curb this habit and to reflect a perhaps more realistic and enlightened image of divorce, Richard Bacon MP’s private member’s bill, otherwise known as the No Fault Divorce Bill, seeks to introduce a new ground for separation and divorce based on the omission of blame.

29 February 2016
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Divorce Today

Under current law, couples wanting to divorce have to provide a reason for doing so and all current reasons contain an element of blame: adultery, unreasonable behaviour by one party, desertion, separation with consent or separation without it (where the time period is increased from 2 to 5 years).

Today, typically one party will be expected to initiate divorce proceedings while the other is expected to agree. The no fault claim will prevent this apportion of blame and seek to see a rise in the number of amicable divorces. If the No Fault Bill is passed into law, this would add a sixth reason for divorce.

In addition to both parties being able to initiate proceedings through stating there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, a one-year period where the couple can consider their decision to start divorce proceedings before a decree absolute is signed would be provided.

No Fault Timeline

Following the first reading on the 13th October 2015, which was heard as part of the new ten-minute rule - which allows an MP to argue their case for a provision or change in under ten minutes - it was passed on the 4th December 2015 and will now move to its second reading.

If passed, the bill will reflect a change in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and this new ground for divorce inserted. The bill is currently in its initial stages, with its second hearing postponed from 22nd January to 11th March 2016. Once debated and if passed, corresponding amendments will be made under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 regarding the dissolution of marriage.

After the second reading, three more hearings will be heard in the House of Commons, along with five more in the House of Lords and amendments given before achieving Royal Assent. As the second hearing in the House of Commons has been delayed for over six weeks, the existence of an amicable divorce that does not apportion blame may not be seen for some time. Nonetheless, it does offer an interesting and, what some may consider, a helpful and welcomed change to the landscape of divorce and family law.

Child’s Best Interests

Not only does the ‘tradition’ of placing fault within divorce create huge costs for the couple itself and places a considerable burden on the English legal system’s time, costs and resources, but with around 100,000 children affected by divorce a year, no-fault divorce could offer a better solution for the welfare of children by offering minimised fall-out, disruption and length of divorce proceedings.  

The emphasis is being placed on the welfare of children. Despite arguments suggesting that it will simply make the divorce process even easier and quicker, others have quashed that by stating that the current process is unhelpful and even perhaps detrimental to the needs and best interests of any children affected by divorce.

For more information and advice on divorce proceedings, contact our professional family law team today.