In a move that will be music to the ears of many a family lawyer – not to mention anyone who’s ever experienced divorce in any way – family law group Resolution have launched a new research project on no-fault divorce.
Because the only no-fault options available as a reason for divorce in England and Wales involve being separated for a minimum of two years, many people choose the two ‘fault-based’ options when they petition for divorce, frequently ‘unreasonable behaviour’ and less commonly ‘adultery’.
The problem with fault-based petitions is that they begin the divorce process on an acrimonious footing. Resolution states:
We are concerned that petitions that rely on apportioning some blame risk creating or inflaming conflict and thus undermining the opportunity for people to resolve disputes outside of court.
Thankfully, they’ve now been granted funding by the Nuffield Foundation to conduct a two-year study of the grounds for divorce and civil partnership dissolution. It will be a three-part process.
Firstly, there will be a ‘public attitudes survey’, which will quiz 2,000 adults and 1,000 recently divorced adults on their views on the divorce process; this part of the study is designed to assess the public appetite for reform.
Secondly, the ‘court scrutiny study’ will look into the ways that the courts investigate allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour made on fault-based divorce petitions, as such allegations are investigated. This ‘scrutiny’ will involve case analysis as well as conducting interviews with lawyers and judges and several divorce centres about this process.
Thirdly will come the ‘producing a petition study’, which will explore what goes into creating a divorce petition. It is intended that this will help clarify the process and provide an in-depth understanding of how it works from the perspectives both of the parties and the lawyers.
In the coming months the researchers will be visiting the areas where they’ll be conducting their ‘fieldwork’, as they call it. If you’re a Resolution member, or are getting divorced with the aid of a lawyer who is a member of Resolution, you may be asked if you’d like to take part.
Ayesha Vardag is a long-time campaigner for no-fault divorce, joining many others, including England’s most senior female judge, Baroness Hale in this belief. Ayesha has previously had this to say on the subject:
No-fault divorce in the only right way in a civilised society where marriage is a consensual union. Irreconcilable differences is a far more realistic basis for parting than the gratuitous whingeing and insulting required by the present law. Forcing often perfectly amicable husbands and wives to denigrate each other, sometimes completely artificially, to support the profoundly wrong notion that one of them must bear the blame for their parting, is as antiquated as it is cruel. It sets an unkind tone of resentment and mistrust from Day 1, often in a home where a couple have to keep living together with their children while the divorce goes through. It hurts everyone, and helps, along with irresponsible lawyering, to shred the last vestiges of love and respect which the couple have for each other, making it often impossible to remain friends or effective co-parents. People will get divorced whether there’s no-fault or fault-based divorce – but it’s profoundly traumatic at present and needs to be kinder. There’s no place in most cases for playing the blame-game.
The full outline for the study can be read here.