No-fault di­vorces planned in re­form of ‘ar­chaic law’

Western Mail - - UK & WORLD NEWS - DAVID WILCOCK news­desk@waleson­

NO-FAULT di­vorces would be in­tro­duced un­der a planned shake-up of the “ar­chaic” law gov­ern­ing the end of mar­riages, the Jus­tice Sec­re­tary has an­nounced.

The need for cou­ples to sep­a­rate or al­lege “fault” would be taken away un­der a pro­posed change un­veiled by David Gauke.

Spouses would also be stripped of any right to con­test a di­vorce ap­pli­ca­tion made by their part­ner, a con­sul­ta­tion launched on Satur­day has pro­posed.

Mr Gauke, who had pre­vi­ously pub­licly called for a “less an­tag­o­nis­tic” sys­tem 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.”

Un­der the cur­rent law in Eng­land and Wales, un­less peo­ple can prove there was adul­tery, un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour or de­ser­tion, the only way to ob­tain a di­vorce with­out their spouse’s agree­ment is to live apart for five years.

The pro­posed changes in­clude:

■ Mak­ing “the ir­re­triev­able break­down of a mar­riage” the sole grounds for a di­vorce;

■ re­mov­ing the need to live apart or pro­vide ev­i­dence of a part­ner’s mis­con­duct;

■ a new court no­ti­fi­ca­tion process that can be trig­gered by one or both par­ties; and

■ re­mov­ing the op­por­tu­nity for the other spouse to con­test the di­vorce ap­pli­ca­tion

Pres­sure for re­form in­ten­si­fied af­ter Tini Owens lost a le­gal bat­tle to di­vorce Hugh, her hus­band of 40 years, in July.

She had told the Supreme Court it was a “love­less” re­la­tion­ship and he had be­haved un­rea­son­ably, ar­gu­ing she should not rea­son­ably be ex­pected to stay mar­ried.

But Mr Owens denied her claims and re­fused to agree to a di­vorce, lead­ing the court to rule against her “with re­luc­tance”.

In the for­ward to the con­sul­ta­tion Mr Gauke said the case had “gen­er­ated broader ques­tions about what the law re­quires of peo­ple go­ing through di­vorce and what it achieves in prac­tice”.

He said the cur­rent need to find fault “need­lessly rakes up the past to jus­tify the le­gal end­ing of a re­la­tion­ship that is no longer a ben­e­fi­cial and func­tion­ing one” and was not in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

Not­ing that al­most 110,000 cou­ples di­vorced last year while “con­strained by a re­quire­ment in place for nearly half a cen­tury”, he added: “When a mar­riage has ir­re­triev­ably bro­ken down, the law should not frus­trate achiev­ing bet­ter out­comes, es­pe­cially for chil­dren.”

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