Despite divorce becoming an accepted aspect of modern life, many of those going through the breakdown of a relationship still view it as a sign they have failed. The strong emotional involvement each party has typically renders divorce a difficult subject, one which should be treated with sensitivity and discretion. However if encouraging respect between ex spouses is essential in minimising the disruption impact of separation, then why is it ex spouses are forced the play the blame game in order validate their reasons for a divorce?

The flaw appears to lye in the heart of the process itself. Under UK law couples must cite one of the following reasons as grounds for divorce:

  • adultery;
  • unreasonable behaviour;
  • desertion for a period of two or more years;
  • two years’ separation with consent;
  • five years’ separation with consent.

The reasons set out above hardly encourage couples to separate on amicable terms, instead scrutinising what went wrong which of course has inevitable ramifications on what remains of a once loving relationship. Individuals must also provide evidence giving specific examples detailing exact moments that they believed their marriage was falling apart. This can result in the resurfacing of raw emotions and tensions, adding unnecessary emotional strain to what is already a draining time.

For separating couples where the decision to separate is mutual the need to place blame hardly seems fair. Britain’s most senior female judge Lady Hale has highlighted the need for a no fault divorce system, in an attempt to take the bitterness out of legal proceedings.

This is not new – there is already on the statute book (but not brought into force) no fault divorce within the provisions of the Family Law Act 1996. The Act says its new law would enable:

“…a marriage which has irretrievably broken down….should be brought to an end—
(i) with minimum distress to the parties and to the children affected;
(ii) with questions dealt with in a manner designed to promote as good a continuing relationship between the parties and any children affected as is possible in the circumstances;
(iii) without costs being unreasonably incurred in connection with the procedures to be followed in bringing the marriage to an end; and
(iv) that any risk to one of the parties to a marriage, and to any children, of violence from the other party should, so far as reasonably practicable, be removed or diminished

Lady Hale is effectively restating the need for that legislation to be brought into force but has also putting forward proposals of a one year ‘cooling off period’ once couples have formally declared the end of their marriage allowing ex spouses to make the necessary arrangements in relation to finances, assets and children.

Whilst there will be cases in which blame can be attributed, Lady Hale’s proposals could have a positive effect in the majority of cases helping to relieve the stress many separating couples face when forced to provide allegations against one another in order to satisfy legal requirements. The long term aim of these proposals is to reduce the duration it takes to process a divorce as well as encouraging civil relationships where possible between ex spouses, especially where there are children involved.

As such she is seeking to promote the aspirations of the 1996 law – something that should be welcomed.

It is unfortunate that the Major Government of 1996 (and the later Governments of Messrs Blair, Brown and Cameron) failed to seize the opportunity earlier: we will have to see what the new Government decides after the election.

Divorce is a highly emotive experience, and unfortunately is rarely straightforward. Contacting a solicitor who specialises in all aspects of divorce is essential in allowing you and your family to move forward with the next chapter of your life. Here at Farleys our family law department are available to support you through this difficult period, to speak to a solicitor regarding divorce or separation please don’t hesitate to contact us on 0845 050 1958. Alternatively you can email us.