Divorce laws to be reformed

Divorce laws in England and Wales are to be overhauled so couples can split faster and, it is hoped, with less acrimony.

Under current rules, one spouse has to allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour by the other for divorce proceedings to start straight away.

In future, they will only have to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. It will also stop one partner refusing a divorce if the other one wants one.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said the changes would help to end the “blame game”.

Currently, “fault-based” divorces, where there are allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour – can take as little as three to six months. But “no-fault” divorces can take much longer – with couples having to prove they have been living apart for at least one year in Scotland, and at least two years in the rest of the UK.

Living apart can include living in the same house, provided they are not sharing a bed or living as a couple.

The changes follow the Supreme Court’s rejection of a woman’s appeal for divorce after her husband refused to agree on a split. Tini Owens, 68, from Worcestershire, wants to divorce her husband of 40 years, on the grounds that she is unhappy.

But husband Hugh refused to agree to it and the Supreme Court unanimously rejected her appeal. It means the couple must remain married until 2020.

The UK’s most senior judge, Baroness Hale – who is also one of the judges overseeing the case – has repeatedly called for the laws to be overhauled, describing them as “unjust”.

The new rules will include a minimum timeframe of six months from petition stage to decree absolute – the legal document that ends a marriage.

At the end of this period, the applicant will be required to continue to affirm their decision to seek a divorce before the divorce is granted.

The government says this will give a “meaningful period of reflection” and the “opportunity to turn back”. In addition, a new option will allow couples to apply for divorce jointly.

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