Blame is seldom a useful emotional response. Yes, it can be used to apportion responsibility and to mete out accountability for certain criminal actions, but within the context of relationships and, specifically, marriage and divorce, it serves little to no practical purpose, can be counterproductive and furthermore, when children are involved, is only likely to increase the impact of emotional trauma.
The futility of the blame game is just one reason why it is such a relief to learn that the government will be changing divorce laws in England and Wales to ensure that no divorcing spouse will ever again have to prove their partner is at fault because of adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour.
It will also end the absurd two-year stasis (stipulated time of separation as one of the Five Facts) faced by many couples whose marriages have proved unworkable but who don't wish to apportion blame; five years in the case of couples where one spouse opposes the divorce.
Crucially, the divorce law reforms will mean that attitudes to dissolution of a marriage have finally grown up in this country, catching up with social mores as well as the practical reality of everyday lives. Just about every divorce lawyer in the United Kingdom has long known that blame has no place at all in determining the outcome of a divorce. In fact, by being forced to focus on the issue of blame, courts have continually undermined the integrity and workability of the divorce process, imposing a binary morality to ‘failed' relationships when in the vast majority of cases their true nature is vastly more complex and ambivalent.
When a divorce is being finalised and property and other assets are being divided, what should it matter whether one person was emotionally distant, lazy, overweight, profligate or an incorrigible flirt? Such recriminations only serve to distort and harm the process, particularly if children are involved.
What the Changes are Likely to Mean
It is hoped that by eliminating the importance of blame from the process, divorce can become more communicative, more functional and more heavily focused on what really matters: outcomes. And by focusing on outcomes rather than recriminations regarding the past, it will also inevitably become less contentious.
The divorce law reforms ensure a minimum timeframe of six months from petition stage to the legal ending of a marriage, this period is important as it goes some way to assuaging the voices of those who claim that no-fault divorce risks trivialising and undermining marriage; divorce will not be instantaneous and couples must still reflect upon the process before they can achieve marriage dissolution.
But perhaps the greatest achievement of the new laws will be the way they affect children. No longer will they have to suffer the stress, shame and confusion of having their parents engaged in full-scale, high-stakes and often very public mud-slinging as part of the legal process aiming to sort out their lives.
In fact, psychologists believe that children witnessing their parents' divorce are surprisingly robust. Rather than divorce having a detrimental effect per se, it is only likely to have a severe negative impact if the child already has poor quality relationships with its parents, suffers poor parental care or must bear witness to an intense, prolonged and contentious split.
It says a lot that divorce lawyers are near-unanimous in their support for the changes, with the Family Mediation Taskforce, Relate, Resolution, and the judiciary all hopeful of a better future for divorcing couples.
Learning from Scotland
Perhaps the biggest indicator of how the new system will affect divorce can be found in Scotland where no-fault divorce was introduced in 2006.
Yes, it did coincide with a short-term rise in divorce –from 10,875 in 2005 to 13,012 in 2006 – but this has been followed by a reduction in divorce over the intervening years and there were just 6,766 divorces in Scotland in 2017. The reality is that very few divorcing parties in Scotland still rely on the invocation of the old fault-based system. Whatever campaigners for traditional divorce may say, the statistics seem to indicate that no-fault divorce in does not devalue the sanctity of marriage and encourage people to make an easy split.
But will History Repeat Itself?
It is more than twenty years since campaigners for no-fault divorce thought that they had finally won their battle; however, after trials of no-fault divorce proved unsuccessful for largely administrative reasons, the archaic divorce system of England and Wales remained intact.
It is natural therefore to have some anxiety about how the process will play out this time around. There is still no timescale for the drafting and ratification of no-fault divorce legislation and with Brexit dominating parliament's agenda, there are concerns that efforts to speed the process along might lose momentum.
Still, the recognition that no-fault divorce should be adopted and that, as Justice Secretary David Gauke acknowledged, English and Welsh "outdated law" has the effect of creating or increasing conflict between divorcing couples, one must remain hopeful that the change will come, and now it will hopefully be sooner rather than later.
Find a Divorce Lawyer
In the meantime, if you want to bring clarity, calmness and expertise to your divorce legal process, Oratto can help you by connecting you with a divorce lawyer who is suited to your particular needs and circumstances. Try our service today.