I do. For now.

“No Fault” divorce law makes opting out easier

“No Fault” divorce law makes opting out easier

There was a time when nothing quite captured the public’s imagination like a particularly juicy divorce case. Back in the early Sixties, when everything was starting to swing after the austerity years following the Second World War, a slice of good old-fashioned scandal spread across the tabloid front pages raised the eyebrows and lifted the spirits. And if that scandal involved the aristocracy, then so much the better.

Perhaps no London society divorce was more infamous than that involving the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, which had the nation in thrall when the case came to court. The duke petitioned for divorce, citing his wife’s adultery, with the evidence presented including a series of photographs of the duchess wearing nothing more than her three-strand pearl necklace.

Even more outrageous for the times was the fact that one of the polaroid pics showed the duchess performing a sexual act on the so-called “headless man” – whose upper body had been cropped from the shot. The duke produced a list of 88 men with whom he accused his wife of having affairs. The court found there was enough evidence to find her guilty of adultery with four, and in the judgement, she was described as a “completely promiscuous woman” and “wholly immoral”. And despite winning the case, the duke got his own ticking off when the judge criticised his fondness for pornographic postcards. The case was dramatised only last year on BBC television under the title A Very British Scandal.

Times and attitudes change and marriage laws have gradually reformed, but the five basic factors establishing that a marriage has irretrievably broken down, therefore enabling one party to file for a divorce from the other – unreasonable behaviour, adultery, five years separation, two years separation with consent, desertion – have lasted down the years. Until now. The government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act of 2020 is scheduled to come into effect on 6 April in England and Wales and will also apply to civil partnership dissolutions.

The new law has been termed the “No Fault” divorce, meaning that one spouse or partner will no longer have to cite blame against the other. And the divorce application cannot be challenged – except on the grounds of the validity of the marriage. With the element of “fault” removed the hope is that couples will be able to pursue a more amicable and cost-effective divorce.

The system also allows both parties to apply on a joint basis. Divorce language will also change once the new law is in place. The “petitioner” will be termed the “applicant, the “decree nisi” becomes a “conditional order”, and the “decree absolute” will be called a “final order”. However, “no fault’ does not mean “instant” and measures include a cooling off period in case couples want to change their mind and reconcile. There are calls on lawmakers in Scotland to follow the lead of England and Wales, but there are currently no plans to extend the scheme to Northern Ireland. 

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