Pro­pos­als for no-fault di­vorce to ‘end blame game’

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Jamie Grierson Home af­fairs correspondent

Cou­ples who want to di­vorce will face a less con­fronta­tional process un­der pro­pos­als put out for con­sul­ta­tion as the govern­ment seeks to end “the blame game” in a mar­riage break­down.

Di­vorc­ing cou­ples are cur­rently re­quired to blame each other on the grounds of un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour, adul­tery or de­ser­tion, or prove they have been sep­a­rated for a min­i­mum of two years – even if the sep­a­ra­tion is mu­tual.

If the di­vorce is con­tested, and a spouse can­not prove “fault”, then cou­ples have to wait five years be­fore a di­vorce is granted.

The jus­tice sec­re­tary, David Gauke, said he wants to re­duce the an­tag­o­nism of cit­ing fault and the anx­i­ety it cre­ates as he launched a pub­lic de­bate on pro­pos­als to mod­ernise leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing di­vorce that has not been changed for al­most 50 years.

The govern­ment has pro­posed a new process to al­low peo­ple to no­tify the court of the in­tent to di­vorce, while re­mov­ing the op­por­tu­nity for the other spouse to con­test it. This will ap­ply to mar­riages and civil part­ner­ships.

Other pro­pos­als in­clude keep­ing the sole ground for di­vorce as the ir­re­triev­able break­down of a mar­riage and re­mov­ing the need to show ev­i­dence of the other spouse’s con­duct or a pe­riod of liv­ing apart.

Gauke said: “Mar­riage will al­ways be one of our most sa­cred in­sti­tu­tions, but when a re­la­tion­ship ends it can­not be right for the law to cre­ate or in­crease con­flict be­tween di­vorc­ing cou­ples.

“That is why we will re­move the ar­chaic re­quire­ments to al­lege fault or show ev­i­dence of sep­a­ra­tion, mak­ing the process less ac­ri­mo­nious and help­ing fam­i­lies look to the fu­ture.”

De­mands for change have mounted af­ter the Tini Owens case. The supreme court ruled in July that the 68-yearold could not di­vorce her hus­band and es­cape her love­less mar­riage un­til five years had elapsed. She and her hus­band, Hugh Owens, had been liv­ing sep­a­rate lives since 2015.

Gauke said the time was “ripe” for change. “It hasn’t nec­es­sar­ily been at the top of pub­lic fo­cus as much as it might,” he said.

“It’s not an is­sue I was par­tic­u­larly fo­cused or aware of be­fore I be­came jus­tice sec­re­tary in Jan­uary. It’s one of those ones where peo­ple do worry if this could be con­tro­ver­sial.

“But the more I’ve looked at this, the more I’ve spo­ken to peo­ple with a range of views clas­si­fied as left or right or so­cially con­ser­va­tive or so­cially lib­eral, there’s been a grow­ing coali­tion recog­nis­ing that the an­i­mos­ity that is put into the sys­tem is not do­ing us any good. The time is cer­tainly ripe to make this change.”

Gauke said the depart­ment did not an­tic­i­pate a sub­stan­tial in­crease in di­vorce pe­ti­tions due to the changes.

The con­sul­ta­tion will also seek views on the min­i­mum time­frame for the process be­tween the in­terim de­cree of di­vorce – known as a de­cree nisi – and fi­nal de­cree of di­vorce, the de­cree ab­so­lute.

This will al­low cou­ples time to re­flect on the de­ci­sion to di­vorce and to reach agree­ment on ar­range­ments for the fu­ture where di­vorce is in­evitable.

The con­sul­ta­tion will run for 12 weeks, clos­ing on 10 De­cem­ber.

‘We will re­move the ar­chaic re­quire­ments to al­lege fault’ David Gauke Jus­tice sec­re­tary

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