Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, has today announced that divorce law in England and Wales (which currently makes one party blame the other if they want to get divorced before they have been separated for 2 years), is set to change “as soon as there is enough time in parliament”
This is a major step forward in a legal system which is operating on law introduced in 1973, the Family law team at Langleys, along with many other members of Resolution (the association of Family Lawyers in England and Wales) have been campaigning for this change for many years. Why? Because making people blame each other when they are separating risks making a difficult situation far harder than it needs to be, and can lead to long term and devastating impacts, particularly on any children of the marriage.
The blame game
We often meet clients who have separated from their partner, the decision was mutual and they want to deal with things immediately – perhaps to ensure that they are both financially protected, perhaps to enable them to move on with a new partner, or perhaps simply because they need to emotionally deal with the end of the relationship. When faced with a choice of waiting for 2 years, or divorcing immediately, many of these initially amicable couples find themselves needing to place blame for the breakdown of the marriage. According to the survey Finding Fault, 2017, only 29% of those who were “blamed” for their divorce felt that the fact used fairly reflected the reason that they had separated.
We are therefore caught in a system where couples must either wait for an extended period of time to resolve matters, or risk damaging an otherwise amicable situation to bring an end to their marriage.In 2016, 60 % of divorces in England and Wales were started with such a fault based petition and this “blame game” can have far reaching consequences, particularly where there are children involved.
A 2014 survey undertaken by Resolution, (2014 ComRes survey), looked at the impact of divorce and separation on 14 – 22 year olds and the results are staggering. For instance, almost a quarter of young people spoken to said that they struggled to complete homework, essays or assignments, and 19 % felt that they did not get the exam results that they had hoped for after their parents separated.
These are concerning statistics, but perhaps worst of all, an alarming 32 % of those who responded to the survey felt that one of their parents tried to turn them against the other, encouraging them to take sides, and ultimately placing the children in the middle of a dispute between the adults. The risks to emotional stability and well being in such situations are substantial.
When we are encouraging parties to blame one another, no one can win, but there can be losers, and these will invariably be the children caught in the middle of disputes made more acrimonious by the legal system dealing with them.
Looking to the future
Divorce and separation are a fact of modern life, and making this as straightforward and amicable as possible is essential to avoid these sorts of damaging outcomes. That is why today’s announcement is so important.
The campaign cannot stop here, this commitment has been made, and now Parliament must find the time to put an end to the “blame game” and find a better way forwards for all families caught in this situation.