No-fault divorce – a triumph for children
Clearly the imminent changes to no-fault divorce will have a huge impact on the couples that use the new system, but the effects of this change may also have a huge impact on the children of divorcing parents. The current fault-based divorce has commonly aggravated conflict and animosity between parents as they are required to assert blame in order to move the divorce forward. The removal of this ‘blame-game’ will undoubtedly be a positive development for the divorcing couple but should also be a triumph for children who are often inadvertently affected by the conflict and uncertainty associated with fault-based divorce.
Children are undoubtedly impacted by conflict between their separating parents. 79% of responders to a YouGov poll (2018) agreed that conflict arising from divorce negatively affects children’s mental health with 77% feeling it affected their academic performance. The introduction of a divorce system that removes the need for any reasons to be set out for a divorce should help to limit the conflict that spouses could have when it comes to preparing the necessary divorce paperwork. It is certainly an encouraging development and one of the clear aims of these changes.
Divorcing through the current system can often create uncertainty for children. For example, in 2020 just over 42% of couples divorced on the basis of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ and where this reason is used, couples and their solicitors often discuss and agree the examples of behaviour that are to be included in a divorce petition, which can be a timely process. The Family Justice Young People’s Board recently published the book ‘In Our Shoes’ which shares the stories of children in the family justice system. The book highlights how on-going disputes can be harmful to children’s well being with one young person expressing how they felt they were ‘living in limbo’ while their parents divorced. Whilst the new system will still take some time to complete a divorce, it is hoped that the change to only requiring a simple statement from one or both parties declaring that the marriage has irretrievably broken down; this will minimise delays prior to issuing a divorce and reduce the need for parties to agonise over precisely what is put in the divorce paperwork. Given the more straightforward nature of the divorce paperwork it is hoped that couples will be able to refocus their attention on the appropriate division of their matrimonial finances and the suitable arrangements for their children which will hopefully provide greater certainty for children at a much earlier stage.
Although unintentional, the current divorce system can sometimes lead to children feeling they have a duty to ‘side’ with a parent who they may feel has been ‘wronged’. As the new system requires only a statement affirming the marriage has irretrievably broken down, and does not need a specific reason such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour to be recorded, there is hope that children can, as far as possible, maintain a healthy relationship with both parents.
If you have any questions about no-fault divorce, please contact a member of our specialist family and matrimonial team who will be happy to assist you.