The most senior Family judge in England and Wales, Sir James Munby, has said that couples agreeing to divorce by consent should be able to arrange their own separations by visiting a Registrar rather than going to Court.
In a speech on Tuesday he said that divorce proceedings should be separated from the process of dividing up assets, allowing for less painful and quicker separations. He suggested that uncontested divorces, or so-called ‘no-fault’ divorces, could do away with judicial supervision entirely. This would mean getting a divorce would be a process similar to the registration of a birth or death, effectively removing it from the judicial process.
The idea is likely to cause some controversy and some have commented that the move could be ripe for “abuse”. “No fault” divorces are not yet available in England and Wales. The Government say it is not planning such a change.
Currently, a judge will grant a Divorce if a person can prove to a Court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. For that to be accepted, one of five reasons must be proven. They are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion after two years, two years’ separation with the consent of both parties, or five years’ separation without mutual consent.
Sir James, who is president of the Family Division of the High Court, told a news conference that formally introducing ‘no fault’ would “bring some intellectual honesty to the system”.
Calling for radical streamlining of matrimonial law, Sir James also urged ministers to give unmarried couples living together the same rights as married couples, warning that some women are being “thrown on the scrapheap” without any financial support if their relationship ends.
Currently, a married couple getting a divorce have certain rights to finances or assets but there are no such rights for cohabitees in English law, which Sir James claimed was an “injustice”.
He explained that the family itself has changed beyond recognition in the past few decades, with the nuclear model increasingly replaced by unmarried parents, single parents, step-families and same-sex couples and for this reason, reforms are needed.
If you wish to investigate the options available to you when it comes to divorce or separation please get in touch with one of our experienced divorce lawyers.