Research highlighting a significant lack of truth in divorce petitions should be a ‘wake-up call’ to politicians to introduce a no-fault divorce system, family lawyers have said.
A report published today by the Nuffield Foundation, Finding Fault? Divorce Law and Practice in England and Wales, says that divorce petitions ‘are best viewed as a narrative produced to secure a legal divorce. They are not – as a lay person might suppose they should be – an accurate reflection of why the marriage broke down and who was “to blame”‘. Only three in 10 respondents told the research that the reason cited in their fault-based divorce closely matched the reason for separating.
The report states: ‘What might be regarded as stretching of the truth in such cases is not confined to behaviour petitions. Adultery can be falsely claimed and admitted. Dates of separation may also be massaged to shorten wait times in two- and five-year separation cases.
‘The manipulation of facts is now more routine and prosaic than the staged or bogus “hotel adulteries” with strangers of the 1930s, but it remains an issue.’
Resolution, a family justice organisation which has campaigned for no-fault divorce to be introduced, said the time has come ‘to make no-fault the default’.
Nigel Shepherd, Resolution chair, said: ‘Fault-based divorces don’t reflect the reality of relationship breakdown for the majority of couples and do nothing to help them deal constructively with the consequences – indeed they often have the adverse effect of inciting additional conflict between separating partners.
‘At present, many divorcing couples are forced to play the “blame game” – citing examples of unreasonable behaviour or adultery, long after the relationship has broken down, simply to satisfy an archaic requirement on the divorce petition which has its roots in laws drawn up more than a generation ago.’
Meanwhile, a survey by London firm Forsters shows a significant increase in the number of couples making pre- and post-nuptial agreements. Two-thirds of the 25 firms that took part in the survey advised a ‘greater number’ of nuptial agreements in the seven years since the Supreme Court ruling in Radmacher v Granatino strengthened the legal weight of such agreements.
Nearly four in 10 respondents said over half of the agreements they advised on involved an international element such as overseas assets.
Highlighting the lack of statutory footing for such agreements, solicitor Jo Edwards, head of family at Forsters, hopes policy makers will look at this area soon.