Judges call for no-fault divorces

Senior judges in the UK have labelled current divorce laws “vastly outdated”, renewing calls for no-fault divorces to be introduced.

Under current laws, couples can legally part within six months if one party is shown to be at fault, with the most common grounds for fault unreasonable behaviour, including adultery or devoting too much time to work. But recently, leading judges have challenged that concept.

“I am a strong believer in marriage. But I see no good arguments against no-fault divorce,’ said leading family court judge Sir Nicholas Wall, adding that divorce was in reality an ‘administrative’ process, rather than a legal one.

Those views were echoed by Lord Justice Thorpe, who voiced his support for no-fault divorce in an Appeal Court ruling, arguing that the current laws “represent the social values of a bygone age”.

In 1996, a law removing the need for fault in divorces was passed by John Major’s Conservative government, backed by judges, lawyers, academics and charities. The 1996 Family Law Act was then scheduled for reform by the last Labour government, and although that change is yet to come, more senior judges are coming out in favour of change.

“At the moment, it seems to me we have a system – so far as divorce itself is concerned – which is in fact administrative, but which masquerades as judicial,” said Sir Nicholas Wall, the country’s most senior divorce court judge.

“No doubt this has its roots in history. In the 19th century, and for much of the 20th, divorce was a matter of social status. It mattered whether you were divorced or not, and if you were, it was important to demonstrate that you were the innocent party. All that, I think, has gone. Defended divorces are now effectively unheard of.”

However, politicians and family experts have warned against removing fault from divorce, with Tory MP Julian Brazier claiming “We already have no-fault divorce in all but name”.

“The real issue is whether we need to reintroduce fault for the determination of child custody and division of resources,” he added. “If one partner abandons the other, that should be taken into account… When it comes to dividing possessions, it is extraordinary that no account is taken of adultery or other fault.”

For more on divorce, and what a change to no-fault proceedings could mean for you, contact our family law experts for advice.