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Call for ‘blame-free’ divorce

The law should be changed to allow for a ‘no-blame divorce’, a family law organisation has claimed.

Under current English law, you can only divorce on a single ground: the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and this can be demonstrated by citing one of five facts: unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion, separation for two years with a spouse’s consent, and separation of five years without consent.

As a result, family law group Resolution said that, unless a married couple is living apart, the only way to seek a divorce is for “one of them … to apportion some form of blame”.  They added that this makes coming to a “mutually agreeable” arrangement much more difficult.

Instead, they propose a new divorce procedure where one or both spouses can claim the marriage has broken down irretrievably without having to cite one of the five facts currently accepted by law. This would begin proceedings and, following a six month waiting period, the divorce would be finalised if at least one partner still believed they were doing the right thing.

Such a measure would increase the chances of a solution being reached outside of court because it “immediately puts both partners on a level footing”, Resolution claims.

The proposal was one of several included in the organisation’s newly launched Manifesto for Family Law. Others included better access to legal aid for vulnerable people going through separation, the introduction of a ‘Parenting Charter’ which focuses on the responsibilities of parents going through a divorce and “at least basic legal rights” for cohabiting couples.

The proposals offered in the Resolution manifesto are common sense and, frankly, it’s a sad reflection of our system that they’re not already entrenched in law. It’s archaic and destructive to require blame when seeking a divorce, even during an amicable separation.

It is similarly ridiculous that we’re still fighting for basic legal rights for cohabitants.

Resolution also called for measures to help people get a divorce without going through the courts. They suggest that Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) be renamed ‘Advice and Information Meetings’ (AIMs). They say this is so the focus of these meetings is not solely on mediation.

I think this is also a good idea. The coalition government has focused too heavily on mediation, so adjusting that focus to include alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as collaborative law and arbitration, can only help. Lawyers would still be a necessary part of the process, but keeping cases out of the courts when possible is a good idea.

To read the manifesto, click here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Good idea but six months is too long. Three months.

  2. Rachel says:

    No, it isn’t ridiculous that we are still fighting for rights for co-habitants.

    The contract of marriage exists for people who want to commit to each other. People live in the same house for many different reasons, so it is ridiculous to envisage a society in which you can be saddled with the responsibiliy to maintain somebody financially as a result of merely cohabiting. If children are involved then the law must reflect each parents responsibility fairly. Property laws exists to deal with property ownership issues.

    It would be a dreadful thing if society placed responsiblities upon people to provide for others when no contract or agreement has ever existed.

    Great for lawyers though!!

  3. John says:

    My ex claimed I had physically abused her and that this was unreasonable behaviour and was her claim for the grounds for divorce! I was unhappy at this slur (I still am!) but was told to accept the grounds of Unreasonable Behaviour but not accept the abuse!
    It turns out that the real reason for the divorce was in part problems I was having a work when it appeared that I would lose my job as well as my ex-wife ‘coming out’ as a lesbian!
    It turned into a war which drained us both of assets caused mental health issues and right in the middle of all this 3 young children two of which have autism!
    I wanted to negotiate via mediation but this was opposed by ex and her legal team! £34,000 of joint marital assets now in their pockets and not ours!

  4. Will Ross says:

    “Unreasonable behaviour”. I do love a good legal fiction. But I can scarcely imagine anything more hellishly stultifying than a marriage where both people were always reasonable.

    The idea that we are, or indeed should be, primarily rational is particularly absurd and damaging in the context of divorce. A marriage is not a game of chess. It is a dance. And when you fall out of step, all the reason in the world won’t save it.

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