Change is on the horizon: divorcing without blame

PUBLISHED: 09:07 22 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:32 04 January 2016

Times may be changing for divorce

Times may be changing for divorce


If the No Fault Divorce Bill is passed, spouses will be able to obtain a divorce if they file a joint divorce petition stating their marriage has broken down. Helen Clyne at Debenhams Ottaway explains.

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, separation for two years. 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. The current approach is an unfortunate product of a bygone 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 his wife. In the 1920’s divorce was only permitted on the grounds of adultery and 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 ultimately 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.

For more information or advice please contact:

Helen Clyne, Associate Solicitor at Debenhams Ottaway

01727 738213,



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