Calls for law change on cohabitation and fault-based divorce


A charity is calling for the laws on cohabitation and fault-based divorce to change after new figures reveal that the rate of divorce among all couples is on the rise.

The figures show that the rate of divorce rose by 5.8 per cent last year – the first increase since 2010. Of the 106,959 total divorces in 2016, the average age of divorcees rose to 46 for men and 44 for women, while the average duration of marriages ending in divorce was 12 years.

The figures, however, are still far lower than their recent peak of 2003. Family charity Resolution says “this is almost certainly due” to the rise in the number of cohabiting couples – the fastest growing family type in the UK.

Nigel Shepherd, Chair of Resolution, said: “Yet despite this, there is still little or no legal protection for cohabitants should they separate. What’s more, many are living together while still believing there is such a thing as common-law marriage in this country and that as a result they have rights – there isn’t and they don’t. Action needs to be taken to change this.”

Resolution also highlights the fact that tens of thousands of married couples are discouraged by the current system from taking a “non-confrontational” approach to divorce.

For many separating couples, it said, the need to apportion blame on the divorce petition can introduce “unnecessary conflict” – which may add to the stress to the family as a whole.

“For decades, ‘unreasonable behaviour’ has been the most common reason for divorce among opposite-sex couples, yet many are forced into playing this ‘blame game’ by our archaic divorce laws,” said Mr Shepherd.

“That’s why we have repeatedly called on government to legislate for no-fault divorce, and will continue to do so. This call is echoed by senior legal figures, such as Baroness Hale, the President of the Supreme Court, and Sir Paul Coleridge, the Chair of the Marriage Foundation.

“In the face of such overwhelming support, and with the Supreme Court due next Spring to hear the appeal of Mrs Owens, whose divorce has been denied because of the current law, the government needs to listen and take action.

“It’s time to make no-fault the default.”

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