The end of the Divorce "Blame Game"

Here at Downs Solicitors, we have been closely following the changes in the law surrounding “no blame” divorce – today we were really pleased to hear the news that the law will be changed.

Under current legislation, couples wishing to divorce had to fall into one of the few categories:

  • Infidelity
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion – where a spouse has left for a continuous period of 2 years or more
  • If you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of 2 years or more, although both parties must agree to the divorce
  • If you and your spouse have lived apart for 5 years or more, whether or not there is agreement on both sides.

However, where the marriage has irretrievably broken down, or where there is “no-fault” a divorce cannot legally be granted, leading to many coupes playing the blame game.

We have previously written about the Owens v Owens case – where Mrs Owens filed her divorce petition based upon s1(2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 – or in lay terms, “unreasonable behaviour”.

However, due to the allegations made against Mr Owens, the Judge rejected the petition, suggesting such allegations were “flimsy at best”. This is simply because there was no behaviour that was deemed unreasonable – the relationship had just come to a natural end. Mrs Owens’ case was subsequently rejected by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

This is just one example of a marriage breaking down for no reason – and no fault of either party. The case did, however, highlight the need for a drastic change in the law – and people did sit up and take notice.

New rules will now allow couples to separate where a relationship has broken down in “no-fault”. The rules include a minimum timeframe of six months from petition stage to decree absolute – the legal document that ends a marriage. At the end of this period the applicant will be required to continue to affirm their decision to seek a divorce before the divorce is granted. The idea is that this will give a "meaningful period of reflection" and the chance to “turn back".

These changes are the biggest in more than 45 years and represents a huge opportunity for many couples. We certainly welcome the changes and we’ve no doubt it will be more beneficial in the long run.

If you would like some advice relating to your own divorce, contact Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.