Examination of Witnesses

Part of Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:28 am on 2nd July 2019.

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Nigel Shepherd:

If I may start, I think this is an excellent Bill. The important thing is the big picture. Resolution members—6,500 family justice professionals—are dealing with divorce disputes up and down the country on a daily basis. Our ethos is to try to do so in a constructive, non-confrontational way, yet in the words of our current chair, Margaret Heathcote, who is quoted in the Ministry of Justice’s press release announcing the Bill, under the current law we are doing that job with one hand tied behind our back. Each year, about 100,000 couples are getting divorced in England and Wales, and the most recent statistics show that about 57% of those are pushed into this blame game, alleging one of the two primary fault grounds of adultery or behaviour.

The Committee will be aware that the Family Law Act 1996 would have introduced no-fault divorce, but it was never implemented. We estimate that, since then, about 1.7 million people have assigned blame in the divorce process. Many of those would have done so not necessarily because they wanted to or because it was the real reason for the divorce but because under the current system, if they cannot afford to wait at least two years for a consensual divorce, that is the only option open to them. Crucially, a large number of those would have been parents. Quite frankly, we have waited too long for this reform, having had it once and not got it over the line. In the meantime, we are dealing with that conflict on a daily basis. It is damaging to families, and particularly damaging to children. It is the time that the law caught up with the public attitude, which is that it is time for change and to end this blame game.