Government publishes no fault divorce bill

After decades of delay, a bill introducing no fault divorce has received its first reading in the House of Commons.

Under current legislation, in order to apply for divorce it is necessary to cite one of five “facts”:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Two years’ separation with consent (i.e. your former partner must agree to the divorce)
  • Five years’ separation without consent (i.e. even if your former does not agree)

The need to cite a specific reason has been a source of controversy for years, with campaigners arguing that it encourages unnecessary acrimony between divorcing couples, incentivises dishonesty and adversely affects children.

Then, earlier this year, Justice Secretary David Gauke announced a change of heart on the part of the government, insisting that:

“It cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.”

The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will make significant changes to the 46 year-old Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. It will remove the need to cite one of the five facts, replacing this with a more straightforward statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This statement can be made jointly.

In addition, the bill specifies a minimum waiting period of five months (20 weeks) from the time proceedings begin until a conditional decree nisi can be issued: the penultimate stage in divorce. This time is intended to allow the couple time to reflect or negotiate arrangements where reconciliation is impossible.

A third change is the removal of the rarely used option to contest or ‘defend’ a divorce.

The Justice Secretary declared:

“Marriage will always be a vitally important institution in society, but when a relationship breaks down it cannot be right that the law adds fuel to the fire by incentivising couples to blame each other.”

He added:

“By removing the unnecessary mud-slinging the current process can needlessly rake up, we’ll make sure the law plays its part in allowing couples to move on as amicably and constructively as possible.”

Read the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill here. A date for the more detailed second reading has yet to be announced.