The government has reintroduced a bill to create “no fault” divorce in England and Wales.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was initially brought to the House of Commons last summer after a public consultation on marriage law.

Current legislation requires a spouse filing for divorce to cite one of a number of specific reasons for the application. The most commonly quoted are allegations of blame directed towards the other party: adultery and behaviour they “cannot reasonably be expected to live with”. The latter commonly abbreviated to ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

The new bill will remove the need to quote reasons, replacing it with a simple statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Couples will be able to make this declaration jointly if they wish.

An additional change will be removal of the current option to contest a divorce application by one’s spouse. Although rarely used in practice, the option to ‘defend’ a divorce has been in the spotlight since the controversial Owens v Owens case reached the Supreme Court in summer 2018.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was suspended when Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the 2019 general election.

The government said the bill would constitute the “biggest shake-up of divorce laws in a half a century” and help “reduce the impact that allegations of blame can have on a couple and in particular children.”

The Rt Robert Buckland KC, who is both Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, said:

“The institution of marriage will always be vitally important, but we must never allow a situation where our laws exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing. Our reforms will stop divorcing couples having to make unnecessary allegations against one another and instead help them focus on separating amicably.”

He added:

“By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”

The reintroduction was welcomed by the chair of solicitors’ organisation Resolution, which has campaigned for the introduction of no fault divorce for a number of years. Nigel Shepherd said:

“After a series of false starts last year, we are delighted that Government has chosen no-fault divorce as the focus for one of its first Bills tabled in the new Parliament. For far too long, far too many couples have been effectively forced to assign fault during the divorce process in order to satisfy outdated requirements.”

Image by Jesper Sehested via Flickr (Creative Commons)