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View profile for Peter Vassila
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Blame set to be ditched as divorce laws get facelift

In a move that could help lessen the acrimony often witnessed in divorce proceedings, justice secretary, David Gauke, is to bring forward long awaited legislation that will remove the need for separating couples to allocate blame or wait for years after the collapse of their marriage before seeking a divorce.

Currently, anyone wishing to divorce must prove that their partner is at fault through adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. Alternatively, if these options do not apply to the couple but both parties agree that they want a divorce, they can apply after two years of separation.

However, if the couple is unable to meet one or other of these conditions, then the applicant must wait until they have been living apart for five years before issuing divorce proceedings. Needless to say, this protracted period can set the scene for a contentious divorce.

Mr Gauke has signalled that the reform of the current Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in England and Wales, will be enacted in the next session of parliament – making no-fault divorce a reality.

For many people, the impending change in the law has been a long time in coming. This is not least because, under current legislation, it is all too easy for anyone to find themselves trapped in a marriage which, by any conceivable measure, is defunct.

This will not be the first time there has been a drive to introduce no-fault divorce. An earlier attempt was made through the Family Law Act in 1996. However, the provisions in that act were quickly deemed unworkable and repealed. Despite repeated calls for reform since then from a lot of us who understood the need for a change and often prompted by notorious cases that have made it into the press, the matter has been left resting on the legislative back-burner.

Now, the Justice Secretary seems determined to see through the implementation of workable changes to the law. Perhaps in an effort to avoid a repeat of previous failed reforms, Mr Gauke launched a wide-ranging consultation on reforming the divorce law. Quoted in The Times, Mr Gauke said that responses to the consultation were “overwhelmingly in support, which is why I remain as convinced as I have been for the need to reform this particular area.”

Divorce is, without doubt, one of the most stressful, emotionally challenging events a person can experience. The current divorce laws, which require the attribution of fault or agreement between parties, can serve to foster confrontation which is never a good starting point. Mr Gauke's proposed no-fault reforms are therefore very much welcome as a measure with the potential to significantly de-escalate the often adversarial nature of divorce.