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Ending the Blame Game: Getting No

Fault Divorce Back on the Agenda
Although the number of couples choosing to cohabit continues to rise, marriage remains popular.
Most people consider that marriage is an institution that is important and should be supported.
Despite divorce rates remaining high, the majority of marriages still last the course, but when
they do break down the reasons are usually far from straightforward. Couples should be supported
in efforts to save their marriage, but when there is irretrievable breakdown a civilised society
deserves a civilised divorce process that enables the marriage to be brought to an end with
minimum distress to the parties and, of course, their children.
The current process clearly fails to achieve this objective. Threequarters of divorces are issued on
one of the faultbased grounds of adultery and unreasonable behaviour. Often this is not because
the parties want to apportion blame, but because they are advised that it is only through divorce
that the court can make the orders necessary to achieve financial certainty. Even if couples are
prepared to put their lives on hold for the 2 years required to obtain their divorce by consent, most
could not afford to do so. The process therefore gets off to the worst possible start by encouraging
recrimination when the focus should be on planning for the future.
Resolution has campaigned for no fault divorce for many years. It sits naturally with the non
confrontational approach that was the reason for the association's formation almost exactly 25
years ago and remains the cornerstone of its Code of Practice. Although the Family Law Act 1996
in its final form was in many respects seriously flawed, when the political will to implement it
evaporated, a golden opportunity was lost. Over a decade on, Resolution believes that the time has
come once again to press for this long overdue reform.
In Autumn 2007, Resolution members were invited to respond to a survey on what regime should
replace the present procedure. As was demonstrated by the political and social debate surrounding
the 1996 Act, divorce reform generates strong feelings. The responses from family lawyers up and
down the country reflected this. Many favoured an option of divorce by mutual consent without
any waiting period, but a broadly equal number considered some delay before final decree to
be appropriate, with 6 months being preferred. The interests of children and the need to support
couples in their role as parents were key themes running through the responses.
The challenge of formulating a policy that attracts broad support from family justice professionals,
the public and in due course the government is not be underestimated, but it is one that must not
be shirked. It is time to end the blame game.
NIGEL SHEPHERD Addleshaw Goddard, Leeds, London and Manchester and Resolution
National Committee member