How are divorce laws set to change and is breaking up about to get easier?

Fifty-year-old divorce laws will be overhauled under Government plans designed to end a “blame game” faced by couples seeking to end their marriage.

Justice Secretary David Gauke confirmed new legislation would be introduced after a consultation revealed support for reforms of the existing fault-based system.

Here is all you need to know about the proposed changes:

  • Ending the 'blame game'

Under new laws, divorcing couples will no longer have to blame each other for the breakdown of their marriage in court.

Currently in England and Wales, unless someone can prove there was adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without their spouse’s agreement is to live apart for five years.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said this forces spouses wanting a divorce to submit evidence of a partner’s wrongdoing or years of separation, and they have to do this even when the decision to split is mutual.

  • New process

Spouses will be able to submit a “statement of irretrievable breakdown” to apply for divorce under the new laws.

Rather than having to provide evidence relating to behaviour or separation (as is the current policy), divorcing spouses will be required to make a statement that the marriage has broken down.

There will also be the option for a joint application for divorce. Irretrievable breakdown of a marriage will remain as the sole ground for divorce.

  • No more contested divorces

While accounting for under two percent of the approximately 120,000 divorces triggered each year, the ability of a husband or wife to contest proceedings is being scrapped.

The MoJ said the practice is known to be misused by abusers to continue coercive and controlling behaviour.

Ministers also said that it takes both spouses to save a marriage, so allowing one to contest a divorce is of no use.

A consultation also found the current system was potentially working against any prospect of couples reconciling Credit: Rui Vieira/PA
  • Breathing space and an opportunity to turn back

A minimum time frame of six months from petition to a divorce being finalised will be introduced under the proposals.

The current two-stage legal process, currently known as decree nisi (a court order stating when the marriage will end, unless a good reason to stop the divorce can be found) and decree absolute (when the marriage is legally ended), will stay in place.

However, it will take a minimum of 20 weeks to go from the petition stage to decree nisi and six weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute.

  • What was wrong with the existing laws?

Described as “archaic” and “outdated” by campaigners advocating reform, Britain’s existing divorce laws had been shown to exacerbate conflict between divorcing couples, the MoJ said.

A consultation also found the system was potentially working against any prospect of couples reconciling.

A foremost concern was of the potential damage caused to children by undermining the relationship parents may have after divorce.

  • What effect might the changes have on marriage?

Justice Secretary David Gauke insisted the Government “will always uphold the institution of marriage”, but said the law should not create or increase conflict between divorcing couples.

  • When will the changes be introduced?

The MoJ said the new legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

No date has yet been set for the introduction, but it is expected to be soon. Credit: PA
  • What have campaigners said?

Aidan Jones, chief executive of charity Relate (a relationship counselling service), welcomed the “much-needed” changes.

“The outdated fault-based divorce system led parting couples to apportion blame, often resulting in increased animosity and making it harder for ex-partners to develop positive relationships as co-parents," Mr Jones.

“While divorce isn’t a decision that people tend to take lightly, we do support the extension of the minimum timeframe which will allow more time to reflect, give things another go if appropriate, and access support such as relationship counselling or mediation.”

Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said the current system “exacerbates tensions” between couples.

She added: “The Government’s decision to introduce a ‘no-fault’ divorce will help to cut some of the conflict from what can be a highly stressful experience.

“For separating parents, it can be much more difficult to focus on the needs of their children when they have to prove a fault-based fact against their former partner. Introducing a ‘no-fault’ divorce will change the way couples obtain a divorce – for the better.”

The Supreme Court ruled Tini and Hugh Owens must stay married. Credit: PA
  • Have there been any high-profile cases which have contributed to the overhaul?

Calls for reform intensified after a woman lost a legal battle to divorce her husband of 40 years.

Tini Owens argued she was unhappy in her marriage, which she claimed had broken down irretrievably.

But Mrs Owens’s husband Hugh Owens did not agree to divorce, and the Supreme Court ruled against her, meaning she [must remain married until 2020.](http://Divorce laws ‘in crisis’ after Supreme Court forces woman to stay married)

  • What about civil partnerships?

Parallel changes will be made to the law governing the dissolution of a civil partnership.