Should di­vorce be eas­ier?

Be­hind the shock­ing head­lines rages a de­bate... is di­vorce over­due an up­date?

Pick Me Up! - - CONTENTS -

Around half of divorces oc­cur in the first 10 years of mar­riage.

You’ve de­cided to call it a day on your mar­riage.

The re­la­tion­ship isn’t work­ing any more and it’s time for you and your part­ner to go your sep­a­rate ways.

But wait a se­cond – just be­cause you be­lieve you should di­vorce doesn’t mean the law will take the same view.

In July this year, Tini Owens, 68, hit the head­lines when the Supreme Court re­fused her di­vorce.

It was an un­usual case. Only two per cent of divorces are con­tested in Eng­land, and rarely de­fended in court.

But her hus­band of

40 years, Hugh Owens, 80, de­fended the mar­riage, telling the court that Tini’s claims of un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour were ex­ag­ger­ated, and if their mar­riage had bro­ken down, it was be­cause she’d had an af­fair or was ‘bored’.

The case ex­posed the com­pli­cated cur­rent sys­tem that is in­volved in legally end­ing a mar­riage. The cur­rent di­vorce sys­tem was in­tro­duced in 1969, mak­ing it eas­ier for cou­ples who were split­ting up. But while re­la­tion­ships have de­vel­oped, the law has re­mained un­changed for the last 50 years.

To suc­cess­fully pe­ti­tion for a di­vorce, a cou­ple has to prove that the mar­riage has ‘ir­re­triev­ably’ bro­ken down. It means play­ing the blame game, al­leg­ing ei­ther adul­tery, un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour or de­ser­tion. Just grow­ing apart, or am­i­ca­bly de­cid­ing to end the re­la­tion­ship, isn’t good enough.

To avoid point­ing the fin­ger, you’ll have to wait out a two-year sep­a­ra­tion pe­riod be­fore fil­ing for di­vorce.

Five years – if your part­ner re­fuses to sign the pa­pers – is how long Tini Owens will have to wait be­fore fi­nally get­ting her di­vorce in 2020.

But not ev­ery­one is will­ing to wait that long.

Un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour has be­come one of the most com­mon rea­sons given for a di­vorce.

To prove un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour, a hus­band or wife has to pro­vide ex­am­ples of ac­tions they couldn’t be ex­pected to live with.

Orig­i­nally in­tended to cover things like phys­i­cal vi­o­lence, ver­bal abuse or drunk­en­ness, it’s be­come a catch-all to de­scribe all the small things that have driven a wedge into a re­la­tion­ship.

A re­cent study by le­gal firm Slater and Gor­don found three in 10 peo­ple ad­mit to ex­ag­ger­at­ing claims about un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour or adul­tery.

In an al­ready crum­bling re­la­tion­ship, is ask­ing

80% of di­vorced Brits sur­veyed said they would have opted for a ‘no-fault’ di­vorce.

a cou­ple to start point­ing the fin­ger at one an­other, and em­pha­sis­ing faults, a wise move? Espe­cially if there are chil­dren in­volved. More than a third of di­vorcees have said be­ing forced to as­sign blame has made the di­vorce more painful than nec­es­sary.

Dee Holmes, Se­nior Prac­tice Con­sul­tant at Re­late, told Pick Me Up!: ‘Split­ting up is a re­ally dif­fi­cult time for peo­ple, any­way. When peo­ple are put into a si­t­u­a­tion where they have to start to prove fault as part of that, that doesn’t help things to go smoothly. It starts peo­ple off in con­flict and can en­cour­age false ac­cu­sa­tions and cus­tody bat­tles if they are forced to at­tribute blame or wait two years. It doesn’t help peo­ple to move on.’ The Owens case has be­come the spring­board for a cam­paign to in­tro­duce a no-fault di­vorce. The Gov­ern­ment has pro­posed a new process that will al­low peo­ple to file for di­vorce without need­ing to show ev­i­dence of why the re­la­tion­ship has ended. No-fault di­vorce is al­ready in place in the US and the Nether­lands.

‘It would make things more am­i­ca­ble, hope­fully, be­tween the par­ties. It would mean that peo­ple wouldn’t have to mud­sling and make al­le­ga­tions against each other,’ ex­plains Joanne Green, a fam­i­ly­law so­lic­i­tor at Slater and Gor­don.

She con­tin­ues, ‘I think it will re­flect the cur­rent day – it is quite an old law, and I think re­la­tion­ships have changed. I think it can be hard wait­ing two years. A lot of the time, the cou­ple have come to the con­clu­sion that the mar­riage is over and want to go ahead with the di­vorce now. Why should they have to wait? The amount of peo­ple that I’ve dealt with who have de­cided that they want to rec­on­cile in that two-year pe­riod is very small.’ But would a change in law risk mak­ing cou­ples too blase about get­ting a di­vorce? Seventy two per cent of di­vorcees sur­veyed by Gor­don and Slater, be­lieve it may. Op­po­nents of the no-fault sys­tem have even gone as far as to sug­gest it would ‘triv­i­alise mar­riage’. In 2016, there were over 100,000 divorces in the UK, ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics. This was a 5.8 per cent in­crease from 2015. But if a re­la­tion­ship has reached its nat­u­ral end point, what ben­e­fit is there in keep­ing a cou­ple to­gether?

Dee Holmes points out, ‘It’s a sad re­al­ity that if one per­son wants to leave a re­la­tion­ship, you can’t make them stay. So say­ing you’re not al­lowed to di­vorce this per­son isn’t go­ing to stop them feel­ing that they want to, and I think that it can then lead to anger and frus­tra­tion build­ing up.’ Iron­i­cally, by try­ing to keep un­happy cou­ples to­gether, is the cur­rent law more likely to drive in the knife even deeper?

Tini Owens must wait to legally split from hus­band Hugh (right)

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