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20 February 2017

Government rebuffs latest calls for no-fault divorce

Widespread calls to reform divorce laws appear to be falling on deaf ears after the government confirmed it has no current plans to change existing legislation, reports the Law Society Gazette.

Asked by Lord Pendry (Thomas Pendry) whether the government had any plans to review the fault-based divorce system, justice minister and House of Lords spokesperson Lord Keen of Elie (Richard Keen QC) said the government was committed to improving the family justice system so that separating couples can ‘achieve the best possible outcomes for themselves and their families’.

Keen, in his written parliamentary answer, added: ‘Whilst we have no current plans to change the existing law on divorce, we are considering what further reforms to the family justice system may be needed.’

Family solicitors were disappointed by the news.

Felicity Chapman, an associate at Charles Russell Speechlys, said the government minister’s statement was a significant missed opportunity. ‘The government could have acted on the debate around fault-based divorce and drafted a change to the law – but has chosen not to do so,’ she added.

According to research conducted by family law group Resolution, nine in 10 practitioners believe divorce law needs to be modernised to allow for no-fault divorce.

Last year 150 Resolution members visited parliament to discuss the matter with MPs.

Chapman said: ‘One has to wonder whether the decision of the government to not commit time to addressing this legal issue is a casualty of the current focus on Brexit, with little time to no time to address other important issues such as divorce and family law.’

National newspapers today reported on Tini Owens, who has asked the Court of Appeal to overturn a family court ruling which said she could not divorce her husband.

Family solicitor Tony Roe, principal of Reading firm Tony Roe Solicitors said the case ‘clearly demonstrates why no-fault divorce needs to be introduced’.

The fact that the Ministry of Justice is ‘considering’ what further reforms may be needed ‘is a brush-off to badly needed divorce and other reform’, Roe said.

He highlighted the need for the government to legislate to protect and give rights to cohabiting unmarried couples – the fastest-growing type of family in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics.

Resolution said it was delighted to see Lord Pendry challenge the government on the issue.

Chair Nigel Shepherd said: 'This shows our lobbying is having an impact, and momentum is building - there is increased awareness among parliamentarians of this issue, and growing support for ending the blame game and helping separating couples to do so more amicably.'