Divorce law behind the times is set for reform

01 Mar 2019

After 50 years, the law is finally set to catch up with the practice of no-fault divorce and dispense with the need to assign blame.  Family law expert Nigel Winter explains.

As things currently stand, if you are looking to divorce technically you have to rely on demonstrating ‘irretrievable breakdown’, and two of the five key elements carry a degree of blame - adultery and unreasonable behaviour.

Divorce lawyers have long recognised that the ‘blame game’ is extremely unhealthy; it can lead to long term damage within families and undermine attempts to resolve financial settlements and is therefore best avoided.  Protocols drawn up and adopted over many years demonstrate that lawyers are committed to avoiding conflict, even in an adversarial system tailored for it. 

So avoid blame as far as possible when considering divorce; if your petition is based on ‘unreasonable behaviour’, there just has to be sufficient reason to prove irretrievable breakdown.  That balancing act of establishing irretrievable breakdown whilst not offending the other party, is one that lawyers have endeavoured to achieve for many years whilst waiting for Parliament to catch up and introduce no fault divorce. 

I was fortunate to be able to discuss the need for reform with Government Whip and Horsham MP, Jeremy Quinn, last summer ahead of the wider consultation that took place in the autumn.  That consultation followed several years’ pressure from the legal profession, and we were delighted when Justice Secretary, David Gork, finally confirmed that legislation will be introduced in the next Parliament to remove the need for separating couples to allocate blame for their relationship breaking down.

The drive for no fault divorce has been supported in recent years by the high profile case of Owens v Owens in which the judge agreed with the husband’s defence of an ‘unreasonable behaviour’ divorce petition from the wife, meaning that the couple have now to wait for a full five year separation before they can divorce. 

The facts of Owens –v- Owens are rare, and many divorce lawyers will go through their entire career without encountering a single defended divorce; a swift and amicable divorce is possible under the current law, but it depends on both parties demonstrating a degree of goodwill, but the change in the divorce law is long overdue and very welcome.

We have a team of highly experienced divorce solicitors. Should you require any further information, DMH Stallard LLP runs a free Family Law Clinic in its Horsham office. Call 01403 252492 for further information.

Further reading

Destination: office?

Blog, News & PR
Emily Wood considers the results of our recent survey and the implications for the future of the post-pandemic workplace
Read more Read

Commercial lease renewals and pandemic clauses

Will commercial reality trump the law when leases are up for renewal? Property expert James Picknell takes a look
Read more Read

Permitted Development Rights and the revised NPPF: Article 4 directions

Blog, Legal Updates
A revised National Planning Policy Framework has just been published. Holly Stevenson focuses on the change to Article 4 Directions
Read more Read

Can commercial lessees now ‘relax’ given the extended Government moratorium on forfeiture for non payment of rent?

Legal Updates
Property Litigation Partner, Keith Pearlman, doesn't think so and explains why they could be in for a nasty shock from 1 October of this year
Read more Read
  • Brighton Office

    1 Jubilee Street


    East Sussex

    BN1 1GE

  • Gatwick Office

    Griffin House

    135 High Street


    West Sussex

    RH10 1DQ

  • Guildford Office

    Wonersh House

    The Guildway

    Old Portsmouth Road



    GU3 1LR

  • Horsham Office

    Ridgeland House

    15 Carfax


    West Sussex

    RH12 1DY

  • London Office

    6 New Street Square

    New Fetter Lane


    EC4A 3BF

  • Get in touch