Couples will be allowed no-fault divorces and spouses will lose the right to contest the breakdown of a marriage under proposals for a historic overhaul of the law being drawn up by the government.
BuzzFeed News has learned that justice secretary David Gauke is set to announce a consultation on no-fault divorce in which he will call for the existing fault-based system of establishing marriage breakdown to be abolished.
Under current law, a spouse who wants to file for divorce must either provide evidence that their partner has committed adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion, or otherwise wait two years if both parties consent to the divorce or five years without both spouses’ consent.
BuzzFeed News can reveal the government’s proposals, which are still being finalised, would keep the sole legal ground for divorce of irretrievable breakdown, but remove the requirement of a spouse to provide one of these five reasons.
The Ministry of Justice will also seek to end the opportunity for a spouse to contest a divorce and consult on the length of the divorce process, proposing a minimum timeframe of six months.
It would be the first significant change to divorce law in England and Wales in nearly 50 years. The proposed reforms would also apply to civil partnerships.
Divorce law has recently been the subject of intense criticism from campaigners. In March, Sir James Munby, the country’s most senior family judge, called for radical reform, arguing the current system was beset by a “lack of intellectual honesty”.
In July, Tini Owens, a 68-year-old Worcestershire woman who wanted to divorce her husband of 40 years, lost a high-profile appeal at the Supreme Court. The court ruled she must remain married until 2020 after her husband, 80, refused to consent to the divorce.
Owens’ solicitor said she was “devastated” by the decision, which led the MoJ to indicate it would consider changes to the law because, it said, “the current system of divorce creates unnecessary antagonism”.
Some 60% of divorces in England and Wales are granted after a spouse makes an allegation of adultery or unreasonable behaviour, according to Resolution, the organisation of family law solicitors.
Resolution has campaigned for a change to the law, arguing that the existing system “creates conflict” and calling for the “removal of the need to blame from the divorce process”.
A government source said their proposals will aim to reduce the level of family conflict during the divorce process and protect children from the confrontational nature of the existing system.
The Ministry of Justice declined to comment.
Labour's shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, responded to BuzzFeed News' story by calling on the government to accelerate the plans. “Instead of yet another consultation, the Conservatives should get on with changing our divorce laws so that they are fit for the 21st century,” he said.
The government's proposals will cover only England and Wales. An earlier version of this article said the reforms were to UK divorce law.
Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alex Wickham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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