Top judge in favour of no-fault divorce


Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the High Court’s Family Division, has given his backing to introducing no-fault divorces into English and Welsh law. He argues that modern values place little stigma on divorce and the practice of forcing couples to give a reason is outdated, meaning that there are no longer any good reasons for maintaining the current system. Instead, he suggests that divorce should be considered an administrative process, rather than a litigious one.

An old idea

This reform was first included as part of the Family Law Act 1996 but was never brought into force. Ultimately it was shelved in 2001 after campaigns from conservative groups who argued that it would encourage divorce and convinced the then Lord Chancellor that the plans were unworkable.

Speaking in the House of Lords Baroness Young said that, “no-fault divorce lowers marriage to something of less value than a television license.”

The issue was raised again in 2006 when Lord Justice Wall argued that the current system actually undermines marriage. His remarks were noted by the then Labour government but no further action was taken.  

Is the time right?

With the present Government’s focus on traditional family values and marriage the proposal is unlikely to make it into law. However, liberal-leaning people will be encouraged to see a return to this debate.

At present if a couple wish to obtain a divorce they must either prove adultery or unreasonable behaviour or wait for a period of two years in order to demonstrate their sincerity. Sir Nicholas argued that these criteria, “now seem to represent the social values of a bygone age”. Furthermore, he said that due to the Government’s cutting back on legal aid as part of its austerity package, there is likely to be an increase in the number of people who represent themselves. Consequently, the time is now right for a simplification of the law.

The Government has yet to comment on the matter but Conservative MP Julian Brazier told the Daily Mail that, “we already have no-fault divorce in all but name” and argued that the focus should be on the role of adultery or other faults when determining child access or the division of resources.


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