21st century divorce

Whose fault?Whose fault?

With the government making a move towards no-fault divorces, Jonathan Diamond from local solicitors Wiseman Lee explains why he believes this will make the system fit for the 21st century.

Recent research from Oxford University demonstrates the most common reason for a divorce after the summer months is unreasonable behaviour and, in fact, this was the reason given for more than half of divorces in 2016, the year from which the most recent data is available.

At present in the UK there is no form of instant no-fault divorce, despite many judges and the legal profession calling for such a change to current legislation. However, if the government consultation paper on no-fault divorce becomes law, it will mark the greatest change to this country's divorce laws since the Divorce Reform Act 1969.

Currently, in order to divorce, a spouse must be able to demonstrate one of the following reasons for the breakdown of the marriage:

  • Unreasonable behaviour: one person has behaved in a way that has resulted in the marriage irretrievably breaking down. Specific examples of this behaviour, including time and frequency, must be demonstrated to the courts.
  • One or both of the spouses has committed adultery: the divorce proceedings must begin within six months of the act of adultery taking place.
  • Two years' separation: divorce can be granted if both individuals have lived separate lives for at least two years and both agree the marriage is over. You don't have to have been living in separate homes to use this reason and it is considered the most amicable split currently available.
  • Five years' separation: if both spouses have lived separate lives for at least five years, then a divorce can be granted. In this case, the other person doesn't have to agree to the divorce.
  • Desertion: where one person leaves without good reason, then desertion can be given as a reason for divorce. This can be extremely difficult to prove and the divorcing party will need to be able to show the mental intent to leave has been there for at least two years.
  • The current system is cumbersome and obtaining a divorce can be a drawn-out process, often putting spouses on a combative footing.
  • If family law is changed, spouses will still obtain a divorce based on irretrievable breakdown but would no longer have to cite one of the above 'faults'. If these changes come about, it is still likely the divorce process will take some months to achieve but many would agree that a no-fault divorce system would make it fit for the 21st century.

Wiseman Lee is located at 9–13 Cambridge Park, Wanstead, E11 2PU. For more information, call 020 8215 1000

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