Should divorce be easier?
Behind the shocking headlines rages a debate... is divorce overdue an update?
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)