Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, recently spoke at a news conference held at the Royal Courts of Justice. He asserts that judges should be replaced by registrars in uncontested divorce cases. This would result in a process similar to the registration of births and deaths. He called for the introduction in England and Wales of a ‘no fault’ system in which separations by mutual agreement could be handled by registrars rather than judges. Munby rejected the suggestion that a result of changing the process it would make divorce easier or undermine the institution of marriage.
As family lawyers, we are in favour of clients being able to obtain a no fault divorce. At the present time there is one ground for divorce which is, the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The person filing the petition then has to provide one or more of the following grounds:
- Unreasonable behaviour;
- Two years’ separation with consent;
- Desertion of two years;
- Five years’ separation where no consent is needed.
Sir James Munby stated that in other countries such systems already exist for marriages without children. In the UK judges go through a ritual of considering whether the grounds for divorce are met, limiting the case for defended divorces which have become a highly infrequent occurrence.
There must be some concerns amongst professionals about the possibility of the process being open to abuse if the system was simply replaced by registrars. However, for couples who have agreed to separate and don’t want to wait two years to divorce, surely an easier system without blame must be better for both parties?
At the present time a district judge deals with uncontested divorce. However, The Family Law Act 1996 did make provision for a no fault divorce to be introduced in England and Wales, although currently the Government has no set plans to introduce the no fault divorce system.