Divorce law reform urgently needed to reduce impact on children

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A family law campaign body has urged the Government to reform divorce law as soon as possible, in order to protect the long-term interests of children of separating couples.

Resolution, a campaign organisation that represents 6,500 family justice professionals, has long championed the need to remove blame from the divorce process. They state that the current fault-based system leads to conflict and confrontation, which is particularly harmful for children.

Over recent years Resolution, along with other organisations, has built a cross-party group of supportive Parliamentarians that have applied pressure on the Government to ensure divorce law in England and Wales reflects other areas of the family justice system which aim to minimise conflict.

Currently, in order to obtain a divorce in England and Wales, couples are required to live apart for at least two years; otherwise one partner must blame the other by alleging adultery or what is commonly referred to as ‘unreasonable behaviour.’

However, the Government recently, and unexpectedly, announced a consultation on reform divorce law, with the Justice Secretary David Gauke MP saying “we think the ‘blame game’ that currently exists helps no one. It creates unnecessary antagonism and anxiety at an already trying time for couples and in particular where there are children.”

Resolution have highlighted findings of a YouGov poll they commissioned, in the same week they submitted response to the Government consultation, hand-delivered at the Ministry of Justice to Lucy Frazer MP, Family Justice Minister.

The YouGov poll found that 79% of the population agree that conflict from divorce or separation can affect negatively children’s mental health, a figure rising to 87% among those whose own parents divorced during childhood. 77% of those surveyed also said that conflict could affect a child’s academic performance and a further two-thirds felt social interactions and the ability to form healthy romantic relationships were also jeopardised by an acrimonious separation.

Margaret Heathcote, National Chair of Resolution, and family lawyer, said:

“We are delighted that the Government is listening to family justice professionals and taking proactive steps towards ending the blame game and modernising divorce law.

“Whilst reform will bring many benefits to separating couples, ultimately it’s the positive difference these changes will have on children that must be at the centre of everyone’s intentions.”

“We hope other responses to the consultation will reflect our own view, that it is time to end the blame game as soon as possible.”

Opponents of a move towards a no-fault divorce system claim that this will undermine the value of marriage, and lead to an increase in divorce. However, figures from Scotland, where no-fault divorce was made possible in 2006, suggests no long-term increase in divorce rates since reforms were introduced.

Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said:

“The current system of forcing spouses to attribute blame for a divorce leads only to increased conflict and unnecessary confrontation.

“We have committed to scrapping this archaic rule as soon as possible, making the process less acrimonious and helping families look to the future.

“I am pleased so many important stakeholders support our reforms, including Resolution, and we welcome all feedback on our proposals.”

Nigel Shepherd, a former National Chair of Resolution and long-standing campaigner for no-fault divorce said:

“For more than 25 years we’ve been making the case that we need to remove blame from the divorce process. I’m incredibly grateful to the Justice Secretary and Family Justice Minister for looking at our case with an open-mind and agreeing on the need to modernise our divorce law.

“Family lawyers across the country back reform, the public support it and, we know from our correspondence with MPs and Peers of all parties, that there is little – if any – opposition in Parliament.

“We know the Government and Parliament have many demands on its focus and time, but we urge that these much-needed reforms are brought forward as soon as possible”.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats came out in public support for no fault divorce in 2017.


Notes to the editor

Resolution is an organisation of 6,500 family justice professionals in England and Wales, who believe in a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters. More info: www.resolution.org.uk

The Government’s consultation on reforming the legal requirements for divorce is open until 10th December 2018. Responses can be submitted here.

Resolution has made resources available, both to the public and local practitioners, to help them campaign to change the system and raise awareness of the long-term impact this conflict can have on children. These are available at www.resolution.org.uk/GoodDivorceWeek

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2005 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th – 9th November 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Facts: Divorce in England and Wales

– There are over 100,000 divorces in England and Wales each year. (ONS 2018)

– Behaviour is the most common Fact used for opposite-sex divorce (52%) and same-sex divorce (83% among women, 73% among men. (ONS 2018)

– In 2015, 60% of divorces in England and Wales were granted on adultery and behaviour, compared with just 6-7% in Scotland where the law is different (Finding Fault 2017)

– National opinion survey showed only 29% of respondents to a fault divorce said that the Fact used very closely matched the reason for the separation. (Finding Fault, 2017)

– Fault is associated with shorter marriages, and evidence shows that fault enables a quick exit from a marriage. (Finding fault 2017)

Attitudes towards divorce law reform (2018 YouGov Survey of 2,005 adults in Great Britain)

– 71% of the population agrees that no fault divorce is urgently needed to protect the long-term interests of children. This rises to 74% among respondents who were divorced or/ separated themselves.

– 79% of the population say conflict from divorce or separation can affect negatively children’s mental health. Among people who experienced their own parents’ divorce when they were children, this number rose to 87%.

– 77% of the population say conflict from divorce or separation can affect negatively children’s academic performance. Among people who experienced their own parents’ divorce when they were children, this number rose to 80%.

– 2 people in 3 agree that conflict from divorce can negatively affect a child’s social interactions with others, as well as their ability to form healthy romantic relationships.

What Resolution members think of current law (all figures below are from a 2018 Resolution survey)

– 90% say current law makes it harder to reduce conflict between ex-partners.

– 67% say the current law makes it harder for separated parents to reach agreements.

– 80% feel the introduction of no fault divorce would help separating couples reach an agreement out of court.