When people first consider getting a divorce in England or Wales, they’re often shocked to discover that the laws around divorce can seem so out of date. It’s still not possible to get what’s commonly called a ‘No Fault Divorce’, where both parties mutually agree that they’d prefer to no longer be married without placing the blame on either party. This is not the case in Scotland, where couples can divorce in a year without assigning blame, if both spouses agree to the petition.
In the absence of a no-fault option, however, someone filing a divorce petition in England and Wales must currently supply a specific reason for the divorce beyond the fact that the marriage just isn’t working anymore. Usually, this means that the divorce applicant must blame their spouse for the collapse of the marriage – most commonly on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour or adultery – or they must prove that they have been separated from their spouse for at least two years.
Such stringent requirements are outdated and unnecessary – not only are they out of step with modern life, but they also encourage the kind of acrimonious break-ups that can lead to unnecessarily long court cases and result in negative effects on a couple’s children.
While the LexSnap team was at the Resolution family law conference in Bristol recently, we were pleased to hear that the UK’s most senior judge, Baroness Hale of Richmond also believes that the current divorce laws need revision. Lady Hale said that the introduction of no fault divorce and stronger rights for long-term cohabiting couples should be welcomed as these changes will strengthen family responsibilities.
In response to concerns that such reforms would weaken the value of marriage and undermine family ties, Lady Hale said: “It may seem paradoxical to suggest that no-fault divorce is aimed at strengthening responsibility, but I believe that it is.”
“The contents of the [divorce] petition can trigger or exacerbate family conflict entirely unnecessarily. Respondents are encouraged by their lawyers to ‘suck it up’ even though the allegations are unfair. There is no evidence at all that having to give a reason for the breakdown makes people think twice.” These comments were reported in The Times.
This strong position by the head of the UK’s Supreme Court is far from a surprise. Baroness Hale is a long-time proponent of no-fault divorce and other family law reforms. In 1990, she helped produce a report for the Law Commission which strongly recommended the introduction of a no-fault divorce provision. This provision was initially introduced in the 1996 Family Law Act but unfortunately was never enacted.
During the her speech at the Resolution conference, Lady Hale also spoke of the need for a “"one-stop shop in family cases – where instead of having to navigate possibly five different processes a separating party could file one form telling one story and asking for whichever relief they wanted at the time – and preferably available online." This is the kind of future for family law which LexSnap passionately believes in and our platform has been designed around proving a service which as closely mirrors such an experience as is possible under the current laws.
Hopefully, the strong words of Lady Hale at the Resolution conference will spur Parliament into changing the current antiquated divorce laws. Unfortunately, however, such changes will never happen overnight. For people who are considering getting a divorce right now, they’ll still have to navigate through the current system.
If you’re currently considering a divorce and trying to understand how the system works and what your options might be, then it is worth considering looking at one of our divorce packages which are prepared by solicitors who are experts in the field. Specific guidance for separating couples, ranging from the Division of Assets to International Divorce and Brexit is available and provides a first step towards the more efficient world of online divorce assistance that we think Lady Hale envisions.