Divorce law reform

October marks the beginning of new research into divorce law and how it might be reformed.

Nuffield Foundation’s project – estimated to last two years at a cost of nearly £350,000 – will focus on the apportioning of blame in divorce cases.

The majority of divorce petitions in England and Wales still rely on allegations of fault, despite concerns that the approach is confusing, discriminatory and causes conflict between parties which in turn makes things worse for children.

A spokesperson for Nuffield Foundation said: “There is now a renewed appetite to address what many see as an increasingly anachronistic divorce law, with calls for no-fault or even consideration of administrative divorce coming from various quarters.

“There is therefore a pressing need for robust research on how the current law is working and whether and how the problems with the fault-based system previously identified in the 1990s have lessened or increased over time.”

To that end, evidence will be sought through three related studies.

Firstly, a qualitative sample of divorce clients will be recruited pre-petition and tracked over a year to explore how petitions are produced and their effect on the parties. Additionally, there will be analysis of how courts investigate petitions alleging adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

This component consists of a case file analysis of 300 completed cases, a case file analysis of 100 contested petitions, plus observation and interviews with legal advisers and judges in several divorce centres.

A public attitudes survey caps off the work and will explore views on both law reform and the grounds for divorce. A nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults and 1,000 recently-divorced adults will be selected.