How Much Easier Have No-Fault Divorce Changes Made a Lawyer’s Job?
New divorce legislation which will remove the requirement for separating couples to allocate blame for the collapse of their relationship is long overdue, and will significantly improve the already unpleasant process for thousands across the country.
This is according to Aysen Soyer, Head of Family at Wilson Solicitors LLP, who below discusses the implication of the no-fault divorce decision and the overall effect it’s had on the UK’s court systems.
When the news came in, there was a collective sigh of relief among the many of us who deal with this on a daily basis.
Currently, under the Matrimonial Causes Act, those wishing to divorce must allocate blame to the other party – citing adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour – or, if both sides agree, they can part after two years of separation, or five years if only one party wants the divorce. For many, this is a wholly unsatisfactory situation, no longer appropriate in today’s society.
Having to blame someone has always increased tensions, and lawyers draft petitions in accordance with their client’s instructions, rather than in a mediatory way, which tends to further inflame things. The Tini Owens case shows that it simply won’t do to have a list of annoying behaviours in the petition; a divorce has to be based on something more meaningful than ‘we don’t get on anymore’. This presents people with the unenviable task of searching for, and citing, specific reasons deemed bad enough for divorcing their spouse – a process bound to stir negative emotions in both parties, and make an already difficult situation worse.
There is a school of thought that the public declaration of the Decree Nisi will not survive the current appetite for divorce reform; that it is an old-fashioned notion that the public need to know a divorce is happening in the same way that a right to object still exists when people marry. Another point of view is that the process of divorce should not be made easier – a marriage should, of course, not be entered into or ended lightly.
However, it is not the statutory process of divorce per se that is cumbersome: in theory, the legal and administrative processes can already complete in a matter of weeks. In practice, it is the disagreement between the parties on where and what blame is being ascribed which makes agreeing the terms of a divorce painful and long winded – it is this that the no-fault divorce legislation aims to address.
No-fault divorces being introduced into law is an important step forward, because removing the initial ‘mud-slinging’ will enable couples to understand that it is rarely the case that one party is entirely to blame for the breakdown of a relationship. Further, in the case of those with children, the process of agreeing childcare arrangements will likely to be less acrimonious if neither party feels that they have been unfairly held responsible for the breakdown of the marriage, paving the way for healthier co-parenting further along the line.
The Family Courts are under huge strain at the moment: fewer protracted courtroom battles are going to be better for divorcing couples and their children – but the system as a whole is likely to benefit, too. David Gauke has thrown us a lifeline, and for that at least we are grateful.