No-fault divorces will be introduced as quickly as possible, ministers vow today, to reduce the “conflict” between separating couples and harm for their children.
Archaic laws demanding proof that a marriage has broken down due to a partner's adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion, will be swept away, they confirm.
David Gauke, the justice secretary, said the current divorce laws, which have been in place for half a century, were “out of touch with modern life”.
“Marriage is a hugely important institution, but when a relationship ends it cannot be right that the law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples,” he said.
“We think that the blame game that currently exists helps nobody; it creates unnecessary antagonism and anxiety at an already trying time for couples.
“In particular, where there are children involved it's very important that we do everything to ensure that the future relationship between the divorcing couple is as harmonious as possible.”
Under the current law in England and Wales, the only way to obtain a divorce without a spouse's agreement, unless fault can be proved, is to live apart for five years.
The proposed changes include:
* Making “the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage” the sole grounds for a divorce.
* Removing the need to live apart or provide evidence of a partner's misconduct.
* A new court notification process that can be triggered by one or both parties.
* Removing the opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce application.
The changes would apply to heterosexual and gay marriages, as well as civil partnerships.
Mr Gauke would not be drawn on a timescale for passing the necessary legislation, but sources said he wanted to act “as quickly as possible”.
Pressure for reform intensified after Tini Owens lost a legal battle to divorce Hugh, her husband of 40 years, in July.
She had told the Supreme Court that it was a “loveless” relationship and he had behaved unreasonably, arguing she should not reasonably be expected to stay married.
But Mr Owens denied her claims and refused to agree to a divorce, leading the court to rule against her “with reluctance”.
Lord Wilson, the judge in the case, said the “question for parliament” was whether the law governing “entitlement to divorce” remained “satisfactory”.
Mr Gauke brushed off concerns that the changes would run into opposition from religious groups.
“I think there has been a growing coalition recognising that the animosity that is put into this system is one that is not doing us any good,” he said.
Labour has also backed the introduction of no-fault divorces, but had urged the government to simply change the law without the delay of a consultation.
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