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Caroline Ryan

Posted 28 March 2017
by Caroline Ryan

Very few divorce petitions rejected, “whether true or not”

Professor Liz Trinder of Exeter University has published interim findings from her research into divorce law reform, particularly the need for a no-fault divorce.

There are a number of important interim findings, including:

  • The majority of divorces are fault based, i.e. one spouse is blamed (primarily adultery or unreasonable behaviour)
  • On a fault based petition, divorce proceedings can be concluded within as little as three months
  • Petitions are not necessarily accurate records of the reason for the marriage breakdown. Petitions can be based on “compromise statements” designed to minimise upset and conflict.
  • There is no test that the court can undertake to ascertain whether allegations of fault are true or not, and petitions are taken “at face value”. Any denials by respondents are ignored unless a formal “Answer” is filed (attracting its own court fee of £245) to defend the proceedings.
  • The threshold for unreasonable behaviour petitions seems lower than 30 years ago. Very few petitions are rejected on substantive legal grounds, whether ‘true’ or not.

Professor Trinder said:

“However mild, we found almost all (undefended) behaviour petitions will get through as the court can only take petitions on face value. It remains to be seen whether the Owens judgment will have any impact on how behaviour petitions are framed by lawyers or on the threshold operated within the regional divorce centres.”

Professor Trinder refers to the Owens judgment, namely that of Tini Owens whose divorce petition was rejected on the basis that the Judge viewed the allegations of unreasonable behaviour to be “flimsy” and “at most minor altercations of a kind to be expected in a marriage”. Tini Owens appealed the decision but her appeal was dismissed. She intends to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. In the wake of this judgment, Resolution has stressed the need for urgent reforms to divorce law.

The final report Finding Fault? will be published in Autumn 2017.

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About the author

Caroline Ryan

Caroline Ryan

Consultant Solicitor

Consultant in the Exeter family team with particular expertise in finances on divorce