When it comes to divorce in the UK, seemingly on a daily basis the headlines are dominated either by embittered celebrities or landmark cases which seek to challenge the current legislation.
The message that members of the public are often left with is that divorce is an ugly, costly, and emotional affair, underpinned by legislation which is outdated and no longer fit for purpose.
While divorce is usually emotional it does not have to be ugly or exorbitantly costly, and while some slow progress is being made in divorce law, there is also a practical alternative for couples right now.
The overarching issue is that the current system funnels separating partners down an adversarial path right from the beginning. Couples then often take more combative positions from the off, and talk through their solicitors to reach an agreement on children and finances, rather than each other.
As a result, research from law firm Seddons shows that the average divorcing couple spends between £17,000 and £30,000 on legal fees when separating, in a process that takes, on average, 14.5 months.
The BBC TV drama The Split has proven to be immensely popular, with a second series already commissioned for next year. The programme has put a spotlight on a variety of divorce issues and real life challenges facing couples.
While the plot lines were delivered for dramatic punch, and are a far cry from the reality of how divorce solicitors conduct their cases, the series has played an important role in raising national interest in divorce reform.
Indeed, away from the fictitious BBC show, there has been some real life drama playing out in the UK court rooms, demonstrating the need for legislative reform to this area of the law.
- There is public appetite for divorce law reform
- No-fault divorces and an online divorce process offer a way forward for divorcing couples
- Financial advisers can play a critical role in mediated divorces
First, the case of Mrs Owens is one that has sparked national interest.
Mrs Owens would like to divorce her husband. Her husband wants to stop her. Due to the divorce legislation we have in this country Mrs Owens had to set out the grounds upon which she considered her husband’s behaviour to be unreasonable such that she should no longer be forced to remain married to him.
Mr Owens challenged those grounds in court and won.
Mrs Owens, trapped in a loveless marriage, has therefore become embroiled in a tense Supreme Court battle when all she wants to do is divorce her husband.
This case is being held up by campaigners as an example to illustrate that the modernisation of divorce law is desperately needed and that no-fault divorces should be introduced.
Instead of finding fault, or waiting two years, couples should be able to divorce straight away without the drama and emotional stress of having to name sometimes very minor, specific examples of unreasonable behaviour.
In the modern world the current law is hugely outdated and only serves to increase tension between separating couples.
Second is the case of Mr Mills, which brings into play the question of how long ex-spouses should be supporting each other financially following a divorce.
Questions appear on the last page of this article.