Contested divorce highlights need for law reform

Arriving with exquisite timing in the middle of Good Divorce Week – the annual awareness week of family law solicitors’ group Resolution – the…

Arriving with exquisite timing in the middle of Good Divorce Week – the annual awareness week of family law solicitors’ group Resolution – the judgment in the “extraordinary case” of VW v BH adds fuel to the fire of the campaign for no-fault divorce.

Mr H and Ms W had been married for some 35 years when, in May 2017, Mr H confessed to Ms W that he had been having an affair with her closest friend for the past 22 years. Unsurprisingly, Ms W petitioned for divorce on the basis of Mr H’s adultery.

Despite having admitted his adultery, Mr H decided to defend the divorce and file his own petition on the basis of Ms W’s behaviour. The matter proceeded to a 3-day final hearing with judgment handed down on 5 November 2018 – 18 months since Mr H’s admission. Oral evidence was heard from the parties and no fewer than 7 witnesses, including the parties’ youngest daughter and the woman with whom Mr H had the affair. Most distressingly, Mr H – who was representing himself – cross-examined his daughter, including questioning her knowledge of him contracting herpes and passing it on to her mother.

Unsurprisingly, Her Honour Judge Roberts found that decree nisi should be pronounced on the basis of Ms W’s petition and that Mr H should meet her costs.

This case highlights the desperate need for reform of our antiquated divorce laws. Resolution, of whom all the Weightmans family team are members, has been leading the campaign for no-fault divorce for more than 25 years. Good Divorce Week attempts to highlight the damage that our divorce laws cause separating couple, with a YouGov survey revealing that some 87% of people whose parents divorced when they were children feel that conflict from divorce can negatively affect a child’s mental health.

In September, the government launched a consultation into no-fault divorce, which remains open for responses until 10 December 2018. Weightmans has prepared a response which will be publicised soon and which will whole-heartedly endorse removing fault from the system to enable separating couples the ability to divorce without needing to apportion blame. Sadly, this will come too late for Ms W who has been put through considerable stress, cost and embarrassment in her divorce proceedings, but will help to avoid others suffering a similar fate.

Matthew Taylor is a solicitor in the family law team at national law firm Weightmans.

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