The blame game resolve: no-fault divorce is set to become a legal reality

Sometimes marriages can breakdown and it’s no fault of either party. People simply outgrow each other, or the spark that was once there fades away…

For this reason, campaigners across the UK have spent decades trying to enact ‘no-fault divorce’ legislation. Their mission has been to end the so-called ‘blame game’, in which couples have to apportion blame as grounds for seeking a divorce. And it looks as though this is finally set to become a reality.

In the largest shake-up of marital law in England and Wales for nearly 40 years, Justice Secretary, David Gauke has pledged to bring in legislation enacting the reform in the next session of Parliament.

Owens vs Owens – the catalyst for change

Currently, under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, ‘fast-track’ divorces can only be granted if couples cite adultery or ‘unreasonable behaviour’ as a reason for separation.

Couples ending their marriage amicably must have lived apart for more than two years and, if one person contests the divorce then this is upped to five years.

This is exactly what happened with Owens vs Owens – the case that re-sparked the debate on no-fault divorce and the punishing nature of marital law in general.

Tini Owens tried to divorce her husband of 40 years citing unreasonable behaviour, however, her testimony wasn’t enough to satisfy the Supreme Court, or Mr Owens, who contested the divorce. ‘Parliament decrees that a wretchedly unhappy marriage is not a ground for divorce’, noted one Supreme Court judge.

Many see the Owens case as the catalyst for the Government’s change of heart.

‘Archaic and ‘out of touch with modern society’

David Gauke, described the current law as ‘archaic’ and ‘out of touch with modern life’. He furthered ‘the blame game’ that currently exists helps nobody; it creates unnecessary antagonism and anxiety at an already trying time for couples.’

The blame game that currently exists helps nobody; it creates unnecessary antagonism and anxiety at an already trying time for couples

David Gauke, Justice Secretary

In practical terms, the blame game only serves to deepen the financial burden. The need for blame inevitably makes matters more protracted and, in turn, increases legal costs in a bid to agree matters.

New no-fault divorce legislation will replace gruelling courtroom battles faced by the Tini Owens’ of this world and enable them to end their loveless marriage as painlessly as possible.

Under the new law:

  • “The irretrievable breakdown of a marriage” will be sole grounds for a divorce
  • The need to live apart or provide evidence of a partner’s misconduct will be removed
  • A new court notification process will be enacted that could be triggered by one or both parties
  • The opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce application will be removed

Why now?

With significant legislation change comes controversy and not everyone is a fan of the no-fault divorce movement.  

You only have to look as far as Twitter to understand why this is. One tweet, in particular, succinctly summed up this side of the coin:

Pre-21st Century and the late 20th Century, marriage was considered sanctimonious. To get a divorce was as shameful as committing a crime, no matter how egregious the circumstances. Those days are safely behind us, but marriage is still considered an unbreakable contract amongst many schools of thought.  

So what’s changed?

Well, it’s safe to say that the ratio of followers and critics is largely balanced in favour of those supporting the new Act. According to the Guardian, four out of five people believe the law should be changed to allow for no-fault divorce.  This has been significantly helped by various MPs backing the movement.

Will we see no-fault divorce in the Isle of Man?

As a law firm based in the Isle of Man, which has its own government and passes its own legislation, its only right that we, Quinn Legal, should assess whether our island could take the same strides.

In November of last year, the Tynwald Government agreed to debate no-fault divorce in the House of Keys. Isle of Man Marital laws largely following in the footsteps of those in England and Wales – as a consequence, many of the same arguments made for amending the law on the Isle of Man have mirrored those made across the water.

The question as to whether the law is passed lies in the proportion of Members of the House of Keys who are for or against it. The Isle of Man, however, has gained a reputation in progressive legislation, legalising civil partnerships for heterosexual couples before mainland Britain, and being the first in the British Isles to decriminalise abortion.

With that in mind, stay tuned, as it looks highly probable the Isle of Man should follow suit.

Quinn Legal is a leading law firm on the Isle of Man, working extensively in family law. In operation since 2009, they pride themselves on their friendliness and approachability. Their fun, smart and imaginative personality separates them from other law firms on the island. Find out more about Quinn Legal’s corporate law services here: