Family law judge backs calls for fault-free divorce

According to an article published last week on the Daily Mail website, a senior family law judge has said that couples should be able to get a divorce by simply signing a form at their local registry office.

Sir James Munby, the most senior family law judge in the UK, has also backed calls for a fault-free divorce which would mean that neither party has to take the legal blame for the end of the marriage. Fault-free divorces would then simply be recorded as a registrar in the same way that marriages, births and deaths are. Sir James Munby also said that the grounds of unreasonable behaviour and adultery should be removed from the statute book.

Sir James Munby made his comments in a speech to fellow judges, saying: “Has the time not come to legislate to remove all concepts of fault as a basis for divorce and to leave irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground?”

In his role as the President of the Family Division – the head of the courts who are responsible for custody cases and family breakdowns, Sir James Munby also called for a ‘cohabitation law’ to protect women left on ‘the scrapheap’ after separating from a man they have lived with for many years but who have never married. A cohabitation law would see cohabiting couples treated in the same way in the eyes of the law as married couples, once they have shared a home for a set period of time.

It has already been suggested by government advisers that cohabiting couples should be bound by law once they have lived together for two years if they have children and for five years if they don’t. However critics have said that that the proposed cohabitation and divorce laws could be difficult to implement and open to abuse.

Sir James Munby made the following comments to journalists after his speech: “There are countries where the system is that a divorce which is by consent and where there are no children is treated as an administrative matter dealt with by what, using our terminology, one might describe as the registrar of births, deaths, marriages and divorces. It seems to work.”

He added that he: “Would not contemplate is in cases other than cases where there is consent and cases where there are no children of the family.”

Sir James said that the process in which decisions are made as to which parent children should live with after a divorce had already become ‘uncoupled’ from divorce; he has also expressed the hope that the current system for dividing up assets and goods and for setting maintenance payments could be detached from the legal declaration of the divorce.

Sir James has acknowledged that his hasn’t talked through his plans with government ministers but did say that he felt his ideas would: “make divorce no easier than it is at present,” adding that: “all one is doing is actually bringing a bit of intellectual honesty to the situation and getting rid of an unnecessary process which simply makes life more complicated.”

Before any changes can be made to divorce law, parliamentary legislation would need to be drawn up and pushed through by the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. Government ministers have so far indicated that Chris Grayling won’t consider reforms to the current divorce laws before the next election.

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