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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Join the campaign for no blame divorce

2 Comments

No fault divorce.

There are many causes worth getting behind in the world, but very few of those are in family law. So it was refreshing to read the Resolution Manifesto for Family Law and see the call for a change in the law to allow people to divorce without blame. This is something I feel we should all get behind, especially family law solicitors.

You may think no blame divorce is a pie-in-the-sky concept. However, many people already come to us having reached mutual, amicable agreement with their spouse that the marriage has come to an end. The problem is that then, because of the current system, they are forced to apportion blame (or wait two years!). The fact they have to detail failings causes upset where previously there may have just been an agreement that the relationship was over. The current system of blame can lead people to the completely false conclusion that, if they point the finger at the other person, they will come out with a better settlement as they are the wronged party.

Let’s remove fault from divorce

Currently, in England and Wales, the petitioner has to give one of five grounds for divorce, be it unreasonable behaviour (with examples) or adultery. Changing the process to cut out that necessity to point the finger would help thousands of couples every year navigate their divorce with a little less stress and a little less upset. Surely that has to be a good thing?

Resolution has 6,500 members – all family lawyers or related specialists – committed to resolving divorce without conflict. All Woolley & Co family lawyers are members of Resolution.

Point four of the Resolution Manifesto states really clearly what having a no blame divorce will bring to the negotiating table: Removing blame from divorce will not make it less likely that people will separate. It will simply help people manage separation with less conflict, reducing the burden on the courts.

Fault-based divorce was first introduced in 1969 – and almost 50 years later nothing has changed. There was a move to change the law to institute divorce without blame in the 1990s. This was approved by Parliament but never implemented, due only to reservations about part of the implementation method (through community information sessions for divorcing couples), rather than about the principle of divorce without blame.

Divorce without blame is supported by the Law Commission, judges of the Supreme Court and the Family Division, and the Ministry of Justice’s Mediation Task Force. Counselling and relationship charities Relate and One Plus One also support the change.

Resolution research quotes that, in 2012, there were more than 72,000 divorces where adultery or unreasonable behaviour were cited (out of an average 118,140 divorces per year). That’s 144,000 people involved in finger pointing, tale-telling and blaming. We can change this, so why don’t we? Not only will this help couples, but it will reduce the burden on a family courts services stretched to the limit.

How can we push for this change to happen? We can make a noise about it to the people who make the laws. All of our lawyers are writing to their local MPs asking them to take up the cause. We are urging fellow professionals to do the same. I would urge you to get behind the push too. 

No blame divorce works well in other countries. It can work here and help thousands of couples each year already going through a difficult time.

Andrew Woolley
Managing Partner, Woolley & Co, Solicitors

Comments

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A very worthy cause indeed, to which we should all contribute and support!

Sadly, here in the UK, many professionals will doubtless concur that, historically, we have not been very good at all at learning from what other ‘progressive’ countries have done so well for so long.

Getting it right on no-fault divorce can only reduce impaired thinking arising from divorce trauma, especially where it all too often sets parents against each other over arrangements for their child.

Ironically, in much the same way as arrangements for no-fault divorce were derailed, professional guidelines crafted to spare children from needless distress - centred on ‘parent responsibilities’ and ‘quantum’ as a benchmark - were similarly blocked in the 90s and again by Whitehall in 2004. Despite a sustained effort by parents, their MPs, enlightened professionals; and latterly the Parliamentary Constitutional Affairs Committee, re; their findings and recommendations into the workings of the Family Courts (2004).

Had the UK had the wisdom to install such a framework - in line with our European neighbours -  our society would doubtless not be burdened today by many of the social problems arising from needless manufacture of one-parent families.  (It is worthy of note that an estimated 76% of criminals in prison come from broken homes).

Also, I’m not entirely sure I can agree that removing fault from divorce will not prevent couples from separating - as many disputes arise from a breakdown in communication. There is a possibility that, if couples learnt to communicate differently when a crisis arises - by removing the ‘fault’ - perhaps, they would be more inclined to reach out to therapeutic or mediation services, or solicitors practising collaborative law to resolve their differences?

Who knows… with the right sort of support - there may be couples who will not separate at all. In my experience, I have already been fortunate to witness this occur.

In any event, perhaps its not too soon to shake off the shackles of the past and embrace a different approach to an age old problem - on how best to help couples who face separation; and how we might better help them make the right sort of arrangements for their children.

Taking the fault out of divorce seems an excellent place to start.

By Kenneth Lane on Saturday August 29, 2015

Good added points there Kenneth, thank you.

It is interesting that many of us use the words “fault” and “blame” interchangeably.

My hope is that if the law removes the need to point out the other person’s “fault” then we may help couples to avoid “blame”?

By Andrew Woolley on Tuesday September 1, 2015

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