End of the blame game?

In the biggest shake up of English family law for 50 years fault based divorce is set to be scrapped. Currently, in order to apply for a divorce immediately in England and in Jersey, couples need to either provide evidence that their partner has committed adultery, or that their behaviour has been unreasonable. If they cannot do so, and their partner does not consent to a divorce, couples in England must wait five years for a divorce, and in Jersey they must wait two years. Mrs Owens was recently denied a divorce by the English Supreme Court and told that she must remain “locked” in what she describes as a “loveless and desperately unhappy marriage” until 5 years has elapsed since she and her husband separated.

Resolution and The Times have been campaigning for an urgent reform of the divorce laws in England, on the basis that the current system creates unnecessary conflict in an already difficult situation. In turn the hostility can damage goodwill, often preventing couples from co-parenting their children, and making it difficult for practitioners to encourage couples to co-operate in resolving their finances. The Times states that “Unhappy marriages are oppressive for spouses and children, and bitter divorces can be even worse. It is a scandal that the law makes such ordeals more likely”.

Plans are being drawn up in Westminster by the Justice Secretary David Gauke, under which the sole ground for divorce would remain the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage; but couples would no longer have to rely on any ground to justify it. In addition, spouses would also lose their right to contest the breakdown of the marriage.

Is it time to end the outdated blame game in Jersey? The Jersey Law Commission recommended no fault divorce along with other family law reforms in their Consultation Paper entitled “Divorce Reform” published in 2014. As Jersey’s divorce law follows English Law to a significant extent, English Case Law gives us hope the divorce law revolution will be extended to our jurisdiction. As put succinctly by the Times “marriage is strongest when participation is by consent, not coercion. Family matters, and only reforms to family law will protect it”

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