Like all specialist family lawyers, the team at Manders Law has been following recent developments closely. On 8 June 2021 ministers announced that legislation which will allow married couples to divorce without assigning blame (known as a ‘no fault’ divorce) will now come into force on 6 April 2022. It had previously been anticipated that the legislation would come into force in Autumn 2021.
Currently, unless couples have been separated for at least two years, or unless a spouse can evidence desertion, a party petitioning for divorce can proceed without delay only by assigning blame to their spouse, and therefore basing their divorce petition on either their spouse’s unreasonable behaviour, or adultery.
There is no doubt that reform is long overdue and much needed. The legal landscape in which couples seek to resolve private family issues and the legal terminology which is used as part of that process really matters. That is why in 2014 the terminology of “child arrangements orders” was introduced to replace “residence” and “contact orders”, and why 20 years previously residence and contact orders replaced “custody” and “access” orders. Where the language used implies possession, control, and a greater right of one party over another, or over children it has no place in family law proceedings.
While reform which enables couples to commence divorce proceedings jointly and/or in a neutral way will no doubt help to take the sting out of the litigation process, and to ensure that matters start off on the right foot, a change in the law will not guarantee an amicable divorce and is not required in order to achieve an amicable divorce – that is in the gift of the individual parties, who can and should be assisted by their advisors to achieve this – but it will certainly help in many cases.
It is noteworthy that there is ‘no fault’ assigned in financial remedy proceedings connected to divorce. Only in very rare cases is it appropriate, necessary, or proportionate (from a costs perspective) to pursue a fault-based argument (which is either litigation conduct or financial conduct). Yet the emotions underpinning the assignment of fault and blame very frequently influence both negotiations and parties’ attitude and approach within contested litigation. That is a different issue and those stuck in or on the receiving end of this destructive cycle are referred to our recent article on this very subject.