How does the new no-fault divorce law work in the real world?
In the opening week of the reform of the law to the modern, no-fault approach to divorce law received over 3,000 applications to make the process less problematic.
The significant altercation in the law is an addition of legal provisions under the existing Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, whereby divorcing applicants are no longer under an obligation to apportion blame to either party for the breakdown of the marriage. Essentially, the law has removed the element of a smoking gun. However, this has certainly come at the expense of sacrificing key fundamental values within marriage such as commitment and solidification of love.
The official statistics showing the total amount of petitioned divorces for last year reached a total number of 107,724 – equating to over 2,000 applications every week on average. This increase in comparison to the previous system in place for divorce, is around 50%.
What the experts say
Julius Brookman, a partner at London firm Fletcher Day, said: ‘The introduction of no-fault divorce has led to a run of enquiries at this firm and something of a collective sigh of relief. I had a petition we had to file urgently where the parties were deeply involved in disputing particulars, and they now wish to file a new petition which takes out their major initial grudges and gripes. Likewise, I have had existing clients saying they would like to file now so that they do not have to spend time haggling over apparently anodyne parts of the petition. The new terminology from the courts also offers some clarity to parties who has previously been perplexed by the old use of words.’ Here are some of the benefits of the new system according to legal experts who are of the view that the new fault-free process is simpler and easier to apply.
The tricky debate of the old law
The debate we have left is one where divorcing couple can apportion blame which often results in high tensions and the potential for unnecessary stress, or couples can benefit from a completely obstacle free route to divorce which attaches negative connotations to marriage such as a lack of commitment. What has sparked this radical change in the law in recent years are high profile cases, particularly Owens v Owens 2018. The facts of this case include a married couple that separated in 2015 after getting married in 1978. The controversy here was the fact that the husband wanted to defend against his wife’s application for a divorce. Under the old law, the only routes for divorce were through apportioning blame upon either party or through separation, with or without consent. Traditionally, in such a position, the divorcing couple would seek to apply section 1(2)(d) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 whereby divorce is permitted on the basis that the couple have been separated for 2 years with consent to live separate lives. However, in Owens, the applicant is facing a much longer 5-year period as there is a lack of consent to separate. Naturally, any person who would have to wait such a length of time just to escape an unwanted marriage would be hugely frustrated with the position of the modern law. Therefore, calls for a no-fault based divorce have finally been enforced after years of petitioning.