Justice Secretary announces end to ‘fault-based’ divorce system

David Gauke

The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, has confirmed that the government is planning to reform divorce law to end the end ‘blame game’ that can cause so much stress for some couples when they separate.

Under the current system, there are five reasons for being granted a divorce by the courts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation if both agree to the divorce, or five years separation, even if the husband or wife disagrees.

This has led to many couples using claims of unreasonable behaviour as a way avoiding the requirement to wait two years.

The government held a public consultation on proposals for reform and received more than 600 responses. Mr Gauke said: “They were overwhelmingly in support, which is why I remain as convinced as I have been for the need to reform this particular area.”

He said the Ministry of Justice is preparing a formal response to the consultation and will introduce legislation that will remove the incentive to try to speed up the system by attributing blame.

He said: “I need to go through the formal processes in government, but my ambition will be to bring that legislation at the earliest opportunity, which will be in the next session of parliament.”

Mr Gauke’s announcement follows the highly publicised case involving Tini Owens, aged 68. Her husband Hugh Owens, who is 80, refused her request for a divorce. After a long legal battle, the Supreme Court “reluctantly” ruled against Mrs Owens using the grounds of unreasonable behaviour to end what she described as a loveless marriage.

The five justices said they had misgivings about dismissing her appeal and asked Parliament to consider reforming the divorce laws.

The main proposals detailed in last year’s consultation included:

· retaining the sole ground for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage
· removing the need to show evidence of the other spouse’s conduct, or a period of living apart
· introducing a new notification process where one, or possibly both parties, can notify the court of the intention to divorce
· removing the opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce application.

The consultation also sought views on the minimum timeframe for the process between the interim decree of divorce (decree nisi) and final decree of divorce (decree absolute).

This will allow couples time to reflect on the decision to divorce and to reach agreement on arrangements for the future where divorce is inevitable.