As the law stands, couples wishing to be granted a divorce within a two year period from separation must cite reasons of adultery or unreasonable behaviour in their divorce petition. In the absence of any such reasons, the couple must be separated for at least two years in order to obtain a divorce where both parties consent or five years without consent. A further ground is available whereby one party has been deserted by their spouse for a continuous period of two years.
Sir Nicholas believes that since we live in times where divorce is no longer stigmatised, there is no need for there to be an 'innocent party'. He stated "In the 19th Century and for much of the 20th, divorce was a matter of social status - it mattered whether you were divorced or not, and if you were, it was important to demonstrate that you were the 'innocent party'. All that, I think, has gone".
Objectors to this proposition would perhaps argue that social status no longer being an issue does not provide sufficient grounds to grant quickie divorces. There is a fear that couples will rush into divorce without being given the opportunity and space to evaluate their marriage and consider the possibility of reconciliation. This is particularly pertinent where children are involved. Campaign director of Fathers 4 Justice, Nadine O'Connor, agrees with Sir Nicholas where the couple are childless but says "Where children are involved, I would not like to see a fast-track option, because there is a need to consider the rights and responsibilities to children".
The idea was discussed back in 1996 by a Whitehall advisory group but shelved without implementation by the then Labour government. However, despite this issue being brought once again to the fore, a Ministry of Justice spokesman said that "The government currently has no plans to change the grounds for divorce or any of the reasons used to support irretrievable breakdown of marriage".
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The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.