“It doesn’t seem right that a law that was passed in 1973 is still today, trapping people in a loveless marriage,” says Helen Shaw, an experienced family law solicitor at Tallents Solicitors in Mansfield. "Divorcing your partner shouldn't be reduced to a blame game to achieve the end of a marriage."
Helen is referring to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in England and Wales where anyone seeking a divorce must prove that one party of the marriage has caused the breakdown as a result of adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Failing that, both parties must wait two years after separation and then both must consent to the divorce. Otherwise, without consent or clear evidence of fault, the couple must live apart for five years before applying for a divorce.
However, all that might be about to change following the high profile case of Tini and Hugh Owens.
Growing pressure for a reform in the English Divorce Law
“There has been growing pressure for a reform in the English divorce law from campaign groups such as Resolution over the last few years and until now, the resistance has been from traditionalists who say that no-fault divorce will undermine the institution of marriage. But will it really?
“Indeed, the government has just announced that mixed-sex couples can now enter a civil partnership rather than a marriage, should they so wish, giving them the same legal and financial protection as a marriage.”
“According to the ONS Families and Households: 2017 statistical bulletin, co-habiting families are the fastest growing family unit (3.3m families), which has more than doubled from 1.5m families in 1996. Married or civil partner couple families remain the most common family unit in the UK (12.9m families) but statistically have grown very little (+1.5%) over the same two decade period.”
Socially acceptable to bring children up outside the bonds of marriage
“It’s pretty obvious that those who now choose to marry are doing so for reasons specific to themselves as these days it is socially acceptable to bring up a family outside the bonds of marriage.
“In the case of Tini and Hugh Owens, as the husband is refusing to accept her grounds for the marriage breakdown, Mrs Owens is forced by law to remain in this marriage until 2020 at the earliest. I do find it incredible that anyone, apart from Mr Owens, can believe that it’s acceptable to force a 68-year-old to remain in loveless marriage, because of a nearly 50-year-old law.”
“As a divorce lawyer, I have seen many couples whose separation started out amicably dissolve into a blame game in order to find an escape from the relationship.
“Why should couples resort to apportioning blame to release themselves from a marriage where love has died? Surely, we should be encouraging people to move forwards into their new lives in a way that is mature and less stressful on themselves and any children in the relationship? Plus there’s the added bonus of less court time being used.”
Encourage divorcing couples to avoid the blame game
“I think the whole legal profession is looking to the results from the government’s consultation on this outdated law. Change cannot come soon enough for the English and Welsh divorce law and we all wait for the results after the consultation finishes on 10th December 2018.”
If any of these issues have touched you, then Helen is available to discuss your personal circumstances in confidence at our Mansfield or Southwell offices. Tallents Solicitors also runs a free family law clinic in Southwell on Tuesday evenings from 5pm–7pm. No appointment is necessary.