Divorce is never easy and can have negative effects on all those involved, from the couple in question to their children, extended family and even friends. What makes divorce even worse is when the process is dragged out over a long period of time, where the pain is made worse by seemingly endless blame games and trying to find reasons for the souring of the marriage and whose fault it really is.


There is some promising news on an otherwise sad subject as the Justice Secretary has announced today (April 9) new rules which mean that divorcing couples will no longer have to try and blame each other for the breakdown of a marriage, reducing any extra family conflict.


Proposals for changes to the law include:


  • retaining the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce
  • replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
  • retaining the two-stage legal process currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute
  • creating the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process
  • removing the ability to contest a divorce
  • introducing a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute).


These new rules will make for a much smoother journey towards a ‘no-fault’ divorce. This can only be a good thing as it encourages amicability and means that children are put through much less conflict. Any contact that the couple has with each other in the future will be a lot easier to deal with than if the divorce had been an awful struggle to get through.


In addition, a new option will allow couples to apply for a divorce jointly.


Currently, “fault-based” divorces, where there have been proven allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour can be over and done with in three to six months. But “no-fault” divorces are obviously much more complicated – with couples having to prove they have been living apart for at least one year in Scotland, and at least two years in the rest of the UK.


Some of these changes, and specifically the change to contesting a divorce, were sparked by a recent case in which a woman wanted to split from her husband of 40 years but was unable to do so:


Tini Owens, 68, from Worcestershire, wants to divorce her husband on the grounds that she is simply unhappy. Her husband refused to agree to it and the Supreme Court unanimously rejected her appeal meaning the couple must remain married until 2020.


Baroness Hale, who is the UK’s most senior judge, has repeatedly asked for these divorce rules to be overhauled.


Very few divorces are contested but this practice is known to be misused by abusers choosing to contest a divorce purely to continue their coercive and controlling behaviour.


Justice Secretary David Gauke said of these changes:


“Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.


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


So I have listened to calls for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame game for good.”


What are the current rules for divorce in the UK?


Currently, if you are looking to get a divorce from your partner you’ll need to prove that your marriage has broken down through one or more of the following reasons:




  • Your husband or wife had sexual intercourse with someone else of the opposite sex.
  • The law recognises the act of adultery as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.
  • You cannot give adultery as a reason if you lived together as a couple for 6 months after you found out about it.


Unreasonable behaviour


Your husband or wife has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.


This could include:


  • physical violence
  • verbal abuse, such as insults or threats
  • drunkenness or drug-taking
  • refusing to pay for housekeeping




Your husband or wife has left you:


  • without your agreement
  • without a good reason
  • to end your relationship
  • for more than 2 years in the past 2.5 years


You can still claim desertion if you have lived together for up to a total of 6 months in this period.


You’ve been separated for more than 2 years


  • You can apply for a divorce if you’ve been separated for more than 2 years and both agree to the divorce.
  • Your husband or wife must agree in writing.
  • You can be separated while living in the same home as long as you’re not together as a couple (for example you sleep and eat apart).


You’ve been separated for at least 5 years


You can apply for a divorce if you’ve been separated for at least 5 years, even if your husband or wife disagrees.


There is currently a fee of £550 attached to a divorce, and you can get a divorce (in England or Wales) only if you’ve been married at least a year and your relationship has permanently broken down.


If you need any further information on this subject, or want to talk about your options regarding divorce or any other legal issue please do not hesitate to contact us. Phone on 020 7928 0276 or email into info@lisaslaw.co.uk

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