3 October 2018

A step closer to the no-fault divorce

As Resolution members, Hayes + Storr are delighted that the government has heeded our calls to make the law on divorce less acrimonious for couples, and consequently less distressing for their children.

The government consultation paper “Reform of the legal requirements for divorce” was published on 15 September 2018 and the consultation will close on 10 December 2018. The government’s proposal is to remove the ability to allege “fault” in divorce, and the ability to contest (defend) a divorce. Instead, it is proposed that Petitioners be able to evidence the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage (or civil partnership) by way of a system of notification, whilst at the same time ensuring that the process is a considered one and that parties are able to change their minds if reconciliation becomes a possibility.

The deciding factor in motivating the government to open the consultation on this issue was the well-publicised Owens case. Mr. Owens contested his wife’s petition for divorce, denying that his behaviour during the marriage had been such that Mrs Owens could not reasonably be expected to live with him. The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Mrs. Owens’ appeal against the court’s decision to dismiss her Petition on the basis that her allegations were flimsy and exaggerated. Therefore, whilst it was accepted by the court that the marriage had broken down, she had failed to meet the test in law proving that the husband had behaved in such a way that Mrs. Owens could not reasonably be expected to live with him. The result was that Mrs. Owens now has to remain unhappily married to her husband, with no prospect of moving on with her life until she can show that they have been separated for 5 years.

With overwhelming support within the profession and society generally for the law to be changed, we are hopeful at Hayes + Storr that this long-overdue change in the law will be forthcoming. We look forward to enabling our clients, in the future, to avoid the animosity that a divorce petition so often triggers in an already stressful and upsetting breakdown of a marriage.

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