One hundred and fifty family lawyers are gathering in Parliament today (Nov 30) to call for the Government to allow a ‘no fault’ divorce.
The organisation of family lawyers, Resolution, is spearheading the campaign to change the law and enable couples to proceed with a divorce without having to attribute blame for it to one of them.
One of Cornwall’s leading family law firms, Stephens Scown LLP, is lending its support to the campaign.
At present, unless a couple has been separated for at least two years, they cannot divorce on a mutual consent basis.
As delaying a divorce for two years can create complications in terms of assets changing values before they are divided, a separating couple are usually advised to start the divorce straightaway if they know the relationship is over.
Sarah Atkinson, senior associate at Stephens Scown in Truro and Resolution member, explained: “The requirement for couples who want to divorce soon after separating to blame their spouse in a written court document can be difficult to handle: it creates scope for conflict between them at a time when we are all trying to reduce the emotional temperature.
“I sometimes find clients would prefer to rely on their own behaviour or adultery in preference from having to blame their spouse, so as to avoid making the situation worse. Unfortunately that is not allowed in English law. Unless the couple have been apart for two years, the court will only accept a divorce petition based on the other person’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
“Ultimately, it has to be wrong to have to tell clients that if you want to move on with your lives one of you has to blame the other for your separation.
“The reasons for the marriage breaking down have absolutely no impact on the financial aspects of the divorce in 99.9% of cases and it is frustrating to have to write them down at all.
“Marriages break down for a variety of reasons: couples can drift apart, develop different priorities or mutually want to go their separate ways,” she added.
“Each party has their own reasons. The fact that one has to blame the other can be quite a destructive start to the divorce process unless it is handled sensitively by the lawyers involved.
“Having to create a blame-based document to get the divorce process started is often rather artificial and so by following the Resolution Code of Practice preparing the document in consultation with our clients’ partners so that they are comfortable with the contents and have the opportunity to comment before it is sent to the court avoids an unintentional dispute.
“If this approach is not taken, receipt of a blame-based divorce petition can remove trust between the couple which prevents progress being made in the main financial negotiations.”
Resolution’s campaign in support of no fault divorce is backed by 90% of its 6,500 membership.