There have been renewed calls by family lawyers, Resolution and Baroness Hale for the introduction of no-fault divorce. These calls come as we near the much-anticipated Supreme Court hearing of Owens V Owens on 17th May 2018.
Baroness Hale recently created history by becoming the first female President of the Supreme Court. At the annual Resolution conference in Bristol, she said, “It may seem paradoxical to suggest that no-fault divorce is aimed at strengthening responsibility, but I believe that it is. The contents of the [divorce] petition can trigger or exacerbate family conflict entirely unnecessarily. Respondents are encouraged by their lawyers to ‘suck it up’ even though the allegations are unfair. There is no evidence at all that having to give a reason for the breakdown makes people think twice.”
Margaret Heathcoat, National Chair of Resolution also spoke at the same conference. “It is ridiculous that, in the twenty-first century, Mrs Owens has had to go to the highest court in the land in order to try to get her divorce."
Resolution, who are interveners (a third party who becomes involved in a case because of a specific issue) in the Owens v Owens case, have long campaigned for a change in the current divorce law.
The campaign for change is stronger than ever, despite the current government saying that there are no plans to change the current divorce law to include no-fault divorce.
MP Richard Bacon introduced a No-Fault Divorce Bill in 2015. It had a first reading in the House of Commons and then went no further due to a lack of parliamentary time. In his bill, Mr Bacon proposed a mandatory 12-month “cooling off period” between the Decree Nisi and being able to apply for the Decree Absolute so “couples would have time to reflect on whether a divorce was really what they wanted”.
In our blog on no-fault divorce, written shortly after The Court of Appeal judgement in Owens v Owens, we wrote, “'No fault' divorce would remove the need to make accusations about alleged behaviour of one spouse. Some unreasonable behaviour petitions are exceedingly nasty and are sometimes used as a vehicle on which to create as much pain and distress as possible to the respondent. There is clearly a need for less contentious divorce proceedings without having to wait at least 2 years, and so, perhaps, 'no-fault' divorces are the answer.”
Professor Liz Trinder recently published her research on no-fault divorce. In her final report conclusion she wrote, “Given the harm that the use of fault can generate, it is difficult to see what the point of fault is today. That is particularly so given there is no need in law for the fault alleged to have anything to do with why the relationship broke down”.
Although politically there seems little appetite for changes to divorce legalisation, the legal professionals are certainly hungry for no-fault divorce, and research seems to support the need for change. If Mrs Owens were not successful on May 17th, one would assume that this would only add more fuel to the campaign fire burning brightly. We await the outcome with great interest - the landscape of divorce is changing, and surely positive change is not too far away.
For our case summary on Owens v Owens, read our blog - Owens v Owens - what we know so far.
Contact Oratto on 0845 3883765 to speak with a family law adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.