The current divorce law in England and Wales unnecessarily increases conflict between separating spouses, a charity claims.
In research published today, the Nuffield Foundation suggested that divorce petitions often do not accurately represent why a marriage broke down and called for the introduction of no fault divorce.
Currently, couples in England and Wales who want to bring their marriage to an end must demonstrate that their relationship has irretrievably broken down by citing unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion or separation of at least two years. Most of these mean that the spouse asking for the divorce must blame the other for the breakdown of their marriage.
In the newly published study, people who were going through a divorce were surveyed about the process. Nearly two thirds – 62 per cent – of those who applied for a divorce and 78 per cent of respondents believed that the emphasis on fault had made their separation more bitter than it could have been. Around 21 per cent of respondents claimed it had made coming to an agreement about children harder, while 31 per cent said it had made financial discussions more difficult.
The study was led by University of Exeter professor Liz Trinder. She said the current fault requirement was part of a “painful, and sometimes destructive” system which offers “no obvious benefits for the parties or the state”.
Those who argue against no fault divorce often claim that it would make people less likely to stay together but Professor Trinder explained there was “no evidence from this study that the current law protects marriage” and recommended that fault be removed from the divorce law entirely. It “should be a purely administrative process with no requirement for judicial scrutiny”, she insisted.
Meanwhile Teresa Williams, the director of Justice and Welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, claimed the current law was “at serious risk of being brought into disrepute by the mismatch between the divorce law in theory and what is actually happening in practice”. The persistence of fault in the divorce process was “at odds with the thrust of wider reforms in the family justice system, which have focussed on reducing conflict and promoting resolution” she said.
Photo by YunHo LEE via Flickr under the Public Domain.