Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk has introduced a No Fault Divorce Bill into the House of Commons. What’s more, in news that will likely be welcomed by family law practitioners, the Bill has passed its first reading, despite some opposition from fellow Tory MP, Sir Edward Leigh.
Currently, under to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, there is a single ground for divorce in England and Wales: that the marriage has ’irretrievably broken down’. This claim must be supported by one of five facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation with consent or five years’ separation without consent.
Mr Bacon proposes to add a sixth fact: to eliminate the need for one party to assign blame. He told the Commons:
I propose one simple amendment to the law – the option of divorce without blame – where a petitioner who wished to do so, rather than offering the court one of the five facts currently required of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion etc, could instead satisfy a court a marriage had broken down irretrievably with a sixth fact. Namely, when both parties to a marriage both separately had signed a declaration the marriage had broken down irretrievably.
Mr Bacon is acutely aware of the unnecessary acrimony that arises out of a fault-based divorce system. He also highlighted what he sees as ’a contradiction in the current law’:
Although the whole thrust of current policy is supposedly about taking disputes away from the courts and towards reconciliation, mediation and alternative dispute resolution, people seeking a divorce who wish to avoid apportioning blame often find themselves required by the law to follow a path they do not wish to take. In effect, they are required to throw mud at each other.
Sir Edward Leigh challenged Mr Bacon over the possibility that the Bill would make divorce ’easier’, and increase the numbers of broken marriages, but Mr Bacon disagreed. In fact, he argued, the no fault amendment he proposes wouldn’t shorten the process, but would remove the need for acrimony.
Mr Bacon admitted that he held a divergent opinion to Sir James Munby’s view on the future of judicial involvement in divorce by consent. While Sir Jame Munby is in favour of removing the need for judges in these cases, Mr Bacon thinks that, because marriage is ’a contract’, the courts should still ’have some supervisory role’.
The No Fault Divorce Bill is expected to have its second reading debate on Friday 4 December. A transcript of the debate can be read here.
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