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Changes to divorce law ‘could make separations less painful’

The government is being urged to introduce major changes to divorce laws to reduce the stress and difficulties faced by couples when their marriage breaks down.

A private member’s bill put forward by Baroness Butler-Sloss proposes a system of no-fault divorce.

It would be the first major change to divorce laws in England and Wales for 50 years and could help up to 100,000 couples a year.

It comes after research showed that the current system can sometimes exacerbate problems between couples.

Speaking to the Times newspaper, Lady Butler-Sloss said: “The present law on divorce is not fit for purpose. Research by the University of Exeter has illuminated its unsatisfactory state. Most judges do not apply the law as set out in the 1973 legislation.

“In order to get a quick divorce, petitioners have to make allegations of unreasonable behaviour by the other spouse, which can be very wounding for the respondent, but much more important these allegations are extremely upsetting for the children.”

Professor Liz Trinder, of the University of Exeter Law School, conducted much of the research that shone a light on these issues.

She said: “We think there is a very good case for a law where divorce is granted automatically after a nine-month cooling-off period, if one or both parties confirm that they still think the marriage has broken down irretrievably. That would avoid the mud-slinging the law currently encourages and that helps nobody, not least the children.”

The bill is expected to have cross-party support.

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