In Brief

Divorce laws overhaul to ‘end blame game’ for couples

Justice secretary announces legal overhaul to streamline divorce process

Divorce laws in England and Wales are to be revamped so couples can part ways faster and with less rancour.

Current arrangements dictate that one spouse has to allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour by the other for divorce proceedings to start swiftly. 

The legal overhaul will mean that they will only have to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. It will also prevent one partner refusing a divorce if the other partner wants one.

The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, says that new laws are being introduced to end the “unnecessary blame game” in marital break-ups. 

He added: “While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.”

The reforms were influenced by the case of Tini Owens, 68, from Worcestershire, who says that she is trapped in an unhappy and loveless marriage. 

Last year the Supreme Court ruled that Owens had failed to demonstrate that her relationship with Hugh Owens, 80, had irretrievably broken down because of his unreasonable behaviour.

The court’s ruling means that under existing law Mrs Owens must wait until 2020 for the marriage to end on the ground that she and Mr Owens will have been separated for five years.

There has been widespread support for the new plans.

Sir Paul Coleridge, founder of the Marriage Foundation and a former High Court family law judge, told The Times: “The current law does not prevent people from getting divorced; it just keeps them in marriages they do not want to be in.”

Aidan Jones, the chief executive of Relate, also welcomed the news, forecasting that it would have a positive effect on children of divorcing couples. He said: “The fault-based system led parting couples to apportion blame, often making it harder for ex-partners to develop positive relationships as co-parents.”

However, religious groups are expected to oppose the government’s reforms, arguing that they will open the floodgates to applications for divorce. 

In 2018, 118,000 people petitioned for divorce in England and Wales. 

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