When it comes to the law and personal relationships, the UK is a curious mixture of the progressive and the archaic.
On the one hand, the law recognises same-sex unions, on the other the process of ending a marriage through divorce seems to be stuck in the past, specifically the 1970s and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage in the 21st Century
In England and Wales a divorce can only be granted if it is shown that a marriage has broken down irretrievably and there are only 5 acceptable grounds for making this claim.
Adultery – In legal terms adultery is defined as having a sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex, same-sex relationships are not recognized in this context.
Also adultery ceases to be recognized as grounds for divorce if the deceived party continues to live with their spouse for 6 months after discovering the affair.
If a husband and wife live apart for two years and both agree to a divorce
If one party leaves the other for two years and the other party requests a divorce
If a husband and wife live apart for five years and one or the other wants a divorce
One party behaves in such a way that the other cannot reasonably be expected to continue living with them.
De facto No-faults Divorce versus Legally-recognized No-faults Divorce
Looking at the list of reasons given above, it can be seen that currently the only way to be granted a divorce without some element of blame being attached to at least one of the parties is to wait at least two years, which can seem a very long time for couples looking to separate amicably and move on with their lives.
Because of this, Richard Bacon MP attempted to introduce the No-Fault Divorce Bill 2016, but this failed to get past its first commons reading.
Interestingly this appeared to be through lack of time as the second reading was postponed and postponed again, rather than through any strong, entrenched resistance to the idea itself.
There is still strong pressure from the legal community to recognize no-faults divorce, as is already the case in some other countries. In particular Resolution, an association of 6,500 family lawyers and other related professionals are continuing to campaign for a change in the law.
They argue that permitting no-faults divorce would not only free up court time, but also have a far lower impact on children.
Moving from the Blame Game to Respectful Co-parenting
The fact that there is still a requirement to demonstrate blame in divorce cases is particularly odd given that over recent years the government has heavily promoted the use of mediation during divorce.
The whole point of mediation is for couple to work constructively together to find a mutually-agreeable way forward which will always have the interests of their children (if any) at the forefront.
Even when divorce is the outcome, the idea is to move forward positively, particularly if there are children involved.
Notwithstanding this if the couple wish to divorce immediately (rather than wait two years), when the case goes to court one or the other has to shoulder the blame for the end of the marriage.
Kerry Smith is the head of family law at K J Smith Solicitors, a specialist family law firm who deal with a wide range of issues including divorce, domestic violence, civil partnerships and prenuptial agreements.