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'No fault' divorce back on the legislative agenda

The Queen’s Speech – delivered in the UK Houses of Parliament this week - has brought ‘no fault’ divorce back onto the agenda. The reform would mean divorcing couples would no longer have to blame each other for the breakdown of their marriage.

The legislation to introduce “no fault” divorce was dropped when parliament was illegally prorogued in September but is now to be reintroduced. However, MPs must start from scratch to pass the legislation.

Alexandra Hirst, an Associate in the family team at London law firm Boodle Hatfield, said that family lawyers have been calling for this reform for many years, and its inclusion in the Queen’s Speech was “good news that parliament will be returning to it.”

“Current rules force parties to set out unhelpful details as to how their marriage broke down in their divorce petition,” Ms Hirst added. “This just stokes tensions which we are trying to reduce and leads to a more acrimony which often distracts from the more important issues in the case.

“Divorcing couples often spend a lot of time agonising over allegations for their divorce petition when they would be better off focussing on addressing long-term issues such as custody arrangements for children and how assets will be fairly divided.” However, some have argued that the reform is that it will make it too easy for individuals to divorce when the institution of marriage should be protected and that it is important for some individuals to air the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage at the outset to get it off their chest.

Going forward, Ms Hirst said that now that “this major issue is finally being addressed”, it was now “time we looked at the next big reform issue – that of the rights of cohabiting couples.”

“Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing type of relationship and many believe that they should be granted the same rights as married couples on relationship breakdown - as at the moment their rights on separation are very limited," Ms Hirst said.

“Despite living together for many years, in extreme circumstances, separating cohabitees can be left with no claim to a share in the house they have lived for many years if it was bought in the sole name of their partner. They also have no right to claim for maintenance even if they have been supported throughout the relationship"

This article first appeared in eprivateclient on 19 October 2019. Find out more about our Family Law services.

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