Calls for proposed reforms to the divorce laws in England and Wales have not fallen on deaf ears as the government has recently announced a consultation on introducing a ‘no-fault divorce’, which could see spouses losing the right to contest a divorce.

Fiona Yellowlees, family law solicitor & partner at WBW Solicitors, examines the proposals and outlines the current options for anyone considering divorce in the near future.

‘Under current English law, a couple can only divorce relatively quickly if some fault can be attributed to one spouse, such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery. However, if no “blame” can be found or if one spouse objects to the divorce the couple must stay married for five years,’ explains Fiona.

‘The system encourages couples to place “blame” and expose the difficulties in their marriage to obtain a divorce. An option of a no-fault divorce would reduce the conflict and keep the lines of communication open, which can be particularly helpful when it comes to agreeing a financial settlement or making ongoing arrangements for children,’ Fiona adds.

The government’s proposed overhaul follows the high-profile case of Tini Owens who earlier this year had her divorce petition refused by the Supreme Court. The court was not convinced that her husband had behaved unreasonably enough to warrant a divorce stating that her evidence was ‘flimsy and exaggerated’. The court ruled that ‘being unhappy’ with her marriage of 40 years were not sufficient grounds for divorce, meaning that she must now stay married until 2020.

Between April and June 2018 some 32,230 divorce petitions were made in England and Wales – up 18 per cent on the same period last year, making it the highest quarterly figure since the start of 2013.

Some will argue that the introduction of no-fault divorce will push divorce figures even higher. However, requiring couples to assign blame – perhaps artificially – to obtain a divorce more quickly, undoubtedly adds more stress to an already highly traumatic situation.

Mediation and collaborative law

Rather than heading straight for the divorce courts, married couples thinking about a divorce should consider mediation or collaborative law as alternative options to the usual ‘he said, she said’ altercations and potentially ease the stress of a split.

Mediation is a process whereby a mediator, an independent third party who is neutral and does not take sides in the dispute, sits down with the couple and helps them talk through their issues, such as future finances, childcare or property arrangements, to try and reach an amicable resolution.

Similarly, collaborative law involves face to face meetings between the couple, with both spouses being accompanied by their own collaborative lawyers who can offer legal advice and help to resolve any issues between the pair.

Even if the couple eventually opt to go to court, mediation and collaborative law can speed up the process by helping them to reach an agreement on some of the issues without involving the courts.

For further information, please contact Fiona Yellowlees, in the WBW family law team on 01626 202 404 or email lawyer@wbw.co.uk

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.