One judge in Bury St Edmund’s Divorce Centre, which is the court that handles most divorce petitions in England, noticed that 28 petitions claiming ‘unreasonable behavior’ related to 28 different marriages, was not only similar but verbatim identical. This raised eyebrows, and the judge referred the case of The Marriage of Gia Celine Shelby and Alfie D Yorston up the judicial chain. The 27 related cases and divorces (an interested party) were heard by Mr. Justice Moor on the 10th of September 2021. has just been reported.
Although the 28 petitions for divorce did not contain any notable information, they all contained the same sentences about the respondent spouse’s behavior. For example, ‘For approximately a year before the separation, the respondent would become moody and argumentative toward the petitioner’…. [this] would cause a lot of tension in the home, thereby making the petitioner’s lives very uncomfortable. In his judgment, Mr. Justice Moor stated that no lawyer for divorce surrey or judge would be bothered by this kind of behavior. They would not have heard the same words again and again unless they were able to repeat them.
A company called divorce offered a system that sent customers a proforma letter. It included vague, general examples of the spouse’s alleged ‘unreasonable behavior’. Customers could then amend the petition if they so desired. The company director apologized in court and avoided (a little narrowly) being referred to the CPS.
Family lawyers often refer to the divorce petition as a “check box” exercise. It is, however, an important document. It is the first step in ending a marriage. The hoops that a petitioner must jump through are no longer necessary. Unless the couple is separated for at least 2 years, the petitioner must blame the other party. This could be because they have committed adultery or because the other person has ‘behaved so that it would not be reasonable for them to continue living with them, otherwise known as unreasonable behavior.
This is about to change with the introduction of “No-fault Divorce” in April 2022. It will allow family lawyers to not have to help clients think through unreasonable actions by their spouse at a time we are trying to progress constructively. The respondent does not always need to be criticized. Rarely is a petition able to clearly and accurately explain the reasons for a marital breakdown? No matter how mild or inoffensive the examples of someone’s behavior are (and they must not be too mild, anodyne, following Tini Owens’ case in July 2018), no one enjoys reading a series about themselves.
All of this will soon be over, thanks to the good Lord. This case will see the beginning of ‘No fault divorce’ proceedings. It will be welcomed by both family practitioners and their clients as well as, presumably by divorce.
No-fault Divorce: Where are we now?
Separation is often complicated and can have many causes. It is absurd to try to explain why a relationship ended in a brief form that should be signed by your ex-partner. This is the only way to go unless you’re willing to wait for two years before you agree to divorce. We discussed how to separate well and the best ways to approach divorce to minimize emotional distress and make it as smooth as possible. It is important to focus on the future, not get distracted by past problems. Except in exceptional circumstances and financial division, it is irrelevant what behavior was displayed during the marriage. It is still necessary to give that information to get the divorce. It is at best, atypical and at worst, destructive.
We are therefore watching with great anticipation the Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Bill’s progress. This bill would allow people to divorce without blame. Next is the committee stage, where the bill will go through line-by-line. This stage allows for amendments to be made before the third reading. Some issues with the bill are still to be resolved. These include the time frame between application and Decree Nini, the possibility of not informing one side until later in the process, the consequences of one party withdrawing consent if the application is made jointly, as well as questions regarding jurisdiction. These issues should be addressed as this is a crucial piece of legislative reform. Tini Owens deserves a lot of thanks for raising awareness and providing the catalyst for divorce without guilt.
There is a lot of support for no-fault divorcing. This shows society that the court’s approach is not straightforward. The reason for the breakdown of a relationship should not be complicated. It is important to find solutions that allow the family to work together for a better future.