Divorce laws in Britain are set to see a “revolution” under the ‘Conservative’ government, as ministers say they are ready to bring in fast “no-fault” break-ups and make it easier to dissolve a marriage unilaterally.
Justice Secretary David Gauke is reportedly expected to launch a consultation on ditching the requirement that a person must either present evidence of adultery, desertion, or unreasonable behaviour from their spouse in order to end their marriage, or else undertake a period of separation before a divorce goes through — two years if both spouses consent, five if one objects.
Under the government’s plans, which are still being finalised, irretrievable breakdown would become the sole legal ground for divorce, with spouses no longer being given the opportunity to contest a split temporarily.
Hailing the move as a “revolution” likely inspired by its own campaign to “modernise family law”, the Times newspaper reported that news of the consultation paper was “leaked amid fears in Whitehall that it could run into opposition within some quarters of the Conservative Party and the church”.
With no-fault divorce laws frequently blamed for sky-high divorce rates in the U.S. — where their introduction led to a six-fold increase in break-ups in just two years — a Westminster source admitted that “not everyone will be in favour” and “releasing the proposals now could be a way to test the water”.
The issue was recently pushed onto the agenda by a Supreme Court case in which a 67-year-old said she was “locked in” to a “loveless” marriage of 40 years.
With current rules stating that if no fault has been established, a person must wait two years for a divorce if the couple agree to separate or five years if one spouse does not, Tini Owens was told to wait until 2020 after her husband refused to consent to the split.
Mrs Owens, who has lived separately from her husband Hugh since 2015, complained that the decision made her feel “unloved, isolated, and alone”, prompting an outpouring of left-liberal anger across the press at British laws preventing fast divorce on demand.
Some conservative commentators were less convinced, however, with Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens commenting: “Marriage law in this country is pathetically weak already, and takes the side of the contract-breaker against the spouse who wants to keep his or her promise to stay together.
“The only unusual thing about this case is that the deserted spouse is not immediately giving in, as most do, so Mrs Owens can’t get remarried for a couple of years… It is not as if the courts are forcing the couple to have breakfast together every day.”
— Slater and Gordon UK (@SlaterGordonUK) August 17, 2018
While advocates of the change claim the current system “creates unnecessary antagonism”, with Supreme Court head Baroness Hale of Richmond even claiming that reform would strengthen the institution of marriage rather than undermine it, almost three-quarters of British divorcees believe bringing in no-fault divorce would make couples less serious about keeping their vows.
A poll carried out last month by pro-reform law firm Slater Gordon, revealed 72 per cent of more than 1,000 divorced Brits surveyed believe that having the option of a no-fault divorce could make couples “more blasé” about splitting up.
Thomas Pascoe, from campaign group Coalition for Marriage, commented: “No-fault divorce would further diminish the status of marriage and leave some men and women at the mercy of cheating or controlling partners.”