To obtain a divorce in England and Wales, married couples have to prove to the court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. The person asking for a divorce has to establish one of five facts; adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation for over five years or, where both spouses agree to a divorce they have to separate for two years before they can actually do so. This means that if couples don’t want to wait two years, they have to prove that one of them did something wrong.
The reasons for a relationship breaking down are rarely straightforward and blaming one side is often wrong. This current approach is an unfortunate product of a by gone era and serves as a historical reminder of how the law has evolved. Fans of Downton Abbey may recall Lady Edith’s boyfriend, Michael Greigson, was unable to divorce to his wife. Mrs Greigson was cared for in an asylum and in the 1920’s divorce was only permitted on the grounds of adultery. As she had not committed adultery, there was nothing he could do.
It has long been argued that change in the law is needed so that you don’t have to attribute blame to get a divorce. Research from Resolution, a specialised group of family lawyers, has shown that the current system, where people plead unreasonable behaviour, only serves to encourage people to mislead the court; 25% of all divorce petitions contain false allegations about the reasons for the break down. This only serves to inflame the situation and makes it harder to resolve conflict.
Change is now on the horizon as the No Fault Divorce Bill is to receive a second reading on 22 January 2016. If passed, spouses will be able to obtain a divorce if they file a joint divorce petition to which they both attach a signed statement confirming the marriage has broken down. After commencing proceedings, there will be a cooling off period of one year before they can obtain Decree Absolute, at which point the divorce is complete. Whilst this change would be welcome, some may still prefer to attribute blame to get divorced more quickly.
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