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Good Divorce Week 2018: Time to end the ‘blame game’?

Willans' family law team

Pictured: Willans Chambers-rated divorce & family law team (L-R) James Grigg, Jonathan Eager and Shakira Maynard-Johnson

Our family lawyers are backing the prospect of a change in the law that may help reduce the fallout from divorce on children.

In a new poll, 79% of the population agreed conflict from divorce or separation can affect negatively children’s mental health, a figure rising to 87% among those who experienced their parents’ divorce as children. 77% said conflict could affect children’s academic performance and a further two-thirds felt social interactions and the ability to form healthy romantic relationships were also jeopardised.

We have spoken out as part of ‘Good Divorce Week’, a national campaign led by Resolution, who campaign for a fairer family justice system and commissioned the new YouGov poll.

Good Divorce Week aims to provide practical help, highlighting ways for separating parents to put their children’s needs first, as well as calling on government to remove blame from the divorce process.

As 200,000 people divorce each year in England and Wales, an overwhelming 79% of the public support measures that would remove blame from the divorce process, with 71% believing change is urgently needed to reduce the negative impact on children.

Willans’ family law department head and collaborative lawyer James Grigg explained that the current divorce system can lead to additional, unnecessary and wholly avoidable conflict.

He said: “Although the idea of a ‘good divorce’ for everyone is somewhat unrealistic, a collaborative approach rather than confrontation gives the best possible chance of the amicable resolution we all strive for. For couples who feel like no-one in particular is to ‘blame’ for the marriage breakdown, there is something of a discord between a constructive/collaborative approach and the legal requirement to apportion blame.

“An example of this is the Owens v Owens case which reached the Supreme Court, and hit national headlines, this summer. Mrs Owens petitioned for divorce from her husband on the grounds that their 40-year marriage had broken down irretrievably. Despite the fact that, unusually, the petition was defended by her husband, the divorce was denied due to the current legal framework.

“Currently, unless a couple can prove they have been separated for 2 years with the consent of the other party (or 5 years without such consent), the only way to get a divorce is to attribute blame. Around 60% of divorces in England and Wales are based on fault, compared with only 6-7% in Scotland where the law is different.

“Many couples are surprised that they cannot just cite irreconcilable differences or say they have simply grown apart.”

Resolution has made resources available, both to the public but also local practitioners, to help them campaign to change the system and raise awareness of the long-term impact this conflict can have on children. These are available at www.resolution.org.uk/GoodDivorceWeek

Our divorce and family law team have recently been awarded a top-tier ranking for the ‘Cheltenham and surrounds’ area by prestigious independent legal guide Chambers and Partners.