Until the long awaited “No Fault Divorce” is implemented (currently anticipated to take effect in April 2022), couples wanting to divorce before being separated for two years, in the absence of adultery, still need to rely on what is considered to be the archaic “blame game”.
In order to obtain a divorce, a party needs to show that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which can then needs to be proven based on one of five facts. If parties have not been separated for at least two years, the only options are adultery and unreasonable behaviour.
Relying on the grounds of one party’s unreasonable behaviour in support of a divorce petition has been falling out of fashion for a number of years. For many couples wanting to separate, they are not interested in blaming each other. Instead, what we see more and more of is that couples want to take a pragmatic approach to divorce which does not involve mudslinging.
This change in attitudes often leaves clients asking us questions like, “what is the minimum I would need to say in a petition?” It is clear that they don’t want to inflame what is already a difficult situation by citing all the reasons why it is their spouse’s fault that the marriage has come to an end.
This leads us to an interesting decision in Yorston & Ors  EWFC 80 which has recently been released. In the case, a family court judge dismissed 28 divorce petitions, which were all prepared by the same company, after finding that within each petition identical wording was used in describing unreasonable behaviour.
In his decision, Justice Moor accepted that in April 2022 the law was due to change, but until then “the law of divorce as it operates in this country is absolutely clear” and that “the simple fact of the matter is that the petitioner, at present, still has to prove the unreasonable behaviour of the respondent.”
The identical wording in each of the 28 divorce petitions was as follows:
“For about a year prior to the separation the respondent would become moody without justification and argumentative towards the petitioner. He/she would behave in this way on at least a couple of days every week, which would cause a lot of tension within the home thereby making the petitioner’s life very uncomfortable. During the same period the respondent would also often ignore the petitioner and decline to communicate with him. He/she would also behave in this way on about two days every week, which would also cause a lot of tension within the home and make the petitioner’s life very difficult. The respondent showed no interest in leading the life of a married woman/man for about a year before the separation. For example, he/she would go out socially on his/her own and basically exclude the petitioner from his/her life thereby making him/her feel very dejected.”
Whilst the judge accepted the wording was sufficient, the issue of course arose due to the identical wording within the 28 petitions all prepared by the same company, iDivorces, an online divorce company. A director of the company was described to have “apologised profusely” and explained that the process by which the issue arose was that the company would send out the standard wording to each client, asking for their comments/changes. In the case of the 28 petitions before the court, no changes had been requested.
The judge found that it was “quite impossible for all twenty-eight respondents to have behaved in exactly that way. I regret to have to conclude that, as a result, these petitions are improper.” All 28 divorce petitions were therefore dismissed, meaning the petitioners would all need to prepare new divorce petitions.
The case shows us a two things. Firstly, that separating couples are increasingly becoming disinterested in entering the blame game with their former partners. They know that the reasons for a divorce, in 99.99% of cases, are irrelevant and will have no bearing on the overall outcome when it comes to resolving financial matters or children disputes. And secondly, that high quality legal advice from a reputable firm of specialist family solicitors should always be sought when considering a divorce. Each of the 28 married couples who had their divorce petitions dismissed would have incurred not only the court fee of £550, but also costs incurred in instructing iDivorce to prepare those petitions (though chances are, refunds were likely sought). That is thousands of pounds of wasted money which could have been saved if they had contacted experts from the beginning.
At Maguire Family Law we are best known for acting in divorce and financial remedy cases. We are ranked in Tier 1 of the Legal 500 2021 and our team is recognised for the full range of family law services, including complex pre and post nuptial agreements, international cases and private children matters. We strive to provide excellent, approachable client service and to obtain the best possible outcome for you.