No-fault divorce means a couple can obtain a divorce without one of them having to prove the other party is to blame for the breakdown of the marriage. The simple assertion of irreconcilable differences is sufficient for the court to grant a decree of divorce.
Can I Get A No-Fault Divorce In England?
The grounds for divorce in England and Wales are:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- 2 years separation (if both parties agree)
- 5 years separation (if one side does not agree)
At present therefore there is no such thing as no-fault divorce in England and Wales. But there have long been calls for a change in the law to introduce no-fault divorce. Family law group Resolution for example campaigns vigorously on the issue. It points out that the current system of divorce is more than 50 years old and in 2015 60% of divorces in England and Wales were granted because of adultery or unreasonable behaviour. In Scotland where the law is different that figure was just 6%.
Owens V Owens
Recently calls for the government to act to change divorce law have become almost deafening. This is largely as a result of the widely reported case of Owens v Owens – now before the Supreme Court. The wife in the case, Tini Owens has declared she is ‘locked’ in her 37 year old marriage. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have rejected her evidence of the alleged unreasonable behaviour of her husband. One judge said the behaviour described was not unreasonable. Instead it was ‘old school’ and what should be ‘expected in a marriage’. It’s fair to say these comments and other aspects of the case have been met by incredulity among certain sections of both the press and the legal profession.
Will We Soon See No-Fault Divorce?
The Owens case is currently before the Supreme Court and family lawyers are waiting to see whether the decision will lead to a change in the law. It’s worth remembering that as far back as 2014 the UK’s most senior female judge, Baroness Hale (now president of the Supreme Court) proposed a system of no-fault divorce. She said such a change would reduce the burden on the family courts and limit the bitterness that often results from one party having to blame the other for a relationship breakdown in the divorce petition. Baroness Hale restated her desire for no-fault divorce as recently as April this year. She tackled head on those who say that to introduce a no-fault scheme could undermine the institution of marriage.
With such an influential advocate for no-fault divorce many hope that change is imminent. However as we have seen in the past, similar calls have in the end fallen on deaf ears.