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Courts are deliberately misled by a quarter of divorce petitions

The time has come to introduce divorce without blame, argues Conservative MP

12 October 2015

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The law should not require couples to 'throw mud at each other' and should instead allow for divorce without blame, according to a backbench Conservative MP.

In 2012, official figures showed that over 72,000 divorce petitions included allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

Research conducted by YouGov in June 2015 found that 52 per cent of divorce petitions were fault based, alleging the same, and that 27 per cent of divorcing couples who asserted blame in their petition admitted the allegation of fault was not true.

The family law organisation Resolution claims the fault-based nature of divorce in England and Wales is driving over a quarter of divorcing couples to make false allegations because it is the easiest way of securing a divorce.

The introduction of a no-fault divorce petition is the subject of a ten-minute motion to be debated in the House of Commons on 13 October 2015, brought by Tory MP Richard Bacon and supported by Resolution.

The Conservative MP for South Norfolk said more than a quarter of those applying for fault-based divorces are deliberately misleading the courts because the law requires them to show specific evidence that their marriage has irretrievably broken down.

'In practice, this means that even couples who do not want to apportion blame may be pushed by the law along a path they do not wish to take,' he added. 'A simple signed declaration by each party to a divorce that the marriage had broken down irretrievably should be sufficient.'

The parliamentarian said he was in favour a 'cooling off' period of 12 months before a divorce could be made absolute, because 'marriages are sometimes saveable'.

'It should also be easier to access counselling and arguably it should even be compulsory,' he continued. 'But where marriages are not saveable, and sadly this does happen, the law should not require couples to throw mud at each other. The time has come to introduce the option of divorce without blame.'

Urgent reform

Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution, said her organisation supported Bacon's motion as fault-based petitions were outdated, unfair, and in need of urgent reform.

'It's not about making divorce easier,' explained Edwards. 'It's about making it easier for people to resolve their issues on separation and move on with their lives after divorce. As our research findings show, the current system is causing couples to make false allegations in court in order to have their divorce finalised within a reasonable time. This charade needs to be ended.'

The Pennington Manches partner said the alternative- living for two years as a separated couple - was for many both financially and emotionally untenable.

'Imagine sharing a home with your former partner for two years, simply because you need to wait for a divorce to be finalised in order to become financially independent; or not being able to seek financial orders from the court in the meantime,' she added.

Edwards said it came as little surprise that people have resorted to making untrue claims in order to move on with their lives and avoid undue suffering for any children in the relationship.

Resolution has campaigned for the introduction of no-fault divorce, which was provided for in the Family Law Act 1996 but never enacted.

The organisation's call for the removal of blame from the divorce process would bring England and Wales into line with other jurisdictions, including the US, Australia, and Spain.

'Fault-based divorce makes it harder for couples to successfully resolve their disputes out of court - it introduces an element of conflict that, as a practicing divorce lawyer and mediator, I have seen derail even the most amicable divorce process,' noted Edwards.

'This creates further strain on the court and creates conflict within separating families, which we know leads to poorer outcomes for children. This goes against the government's aim to get more couples resolving disputes out of court.'

She continued: 'If this government is serious about reducing the conflict in our divorce system, bringing in no fault divorce will be an important step forward. A civilised society deserves a civilised divorce process.'

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD

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Marriage & Civil partnership