Does A Breakup Really Need To Be Someone’s Fault?

Designed by Dionne Pajarillaga.
Whose fault is it? The question always follows a breakup.
In Noah Baumbach’s film Marriage Story (2019), Charlie (played by Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) go through the nitty-gritty of divorce. Is the breakup Nicole’s fault because she wanted to leave New York City for a different life on the west coast? Or is it Charlie’s fault because he cheated? Either way, Charlie muses: "Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best; divorce lawyers see good people at their worst." The whole process – and trying to answer the plaguing question of fault – encourages nastiness and can be emotionally draining. 
Thankfully, the divorce blame game might soon be a distant memory for many people in the UK. Coming into play this week (6th April 2022), the no-fault divorce law marks the biggest reform of divorce legislation in England and Wales in over 50 years. "The changes will put an end to the blame game that many couples are currently forced into and allow couples to end their relationship with more dignity and kindness," says Kate Daly, cofounder of online divorce service provider Amicable. It's a change that will apply to married and civil partnership couples. "The removal of blame is especially important for parents who want to stay on good terms for the sake of their children."
Twenty-six-year-old Kai Kaimins, founder of London-based florist My Lady Garden, wishes the law had been in place when she was going through the arduous and painful process with her now ex-husband. "I left my partner but he filed for divorce. There wasn’t an option to do it mutually and I was really busy with work at the time so he just did it – an online process that’s surprisingly emotionless and happens mainly via email notifications," she recalls. "I felt this was a strange power play – something I later addressed in therapy – that made me feel like he had 'one-upped' me by filing instead of me. Truthfully it doesn’t really matter who filed but there’s always emotions attached."

Under the previous law, couples had to use one of five facts to prove the marriage has broken down irretrievably: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years' separation if both agree or five years if only one wants the divorce.

Kate Daly, Amicable
Kai got married when she was 21 and left the relationship in January 2021 at the age of 25. As her story proves, trying to place blame is redundant when a relationship can end due to a multitude of reasons. "Our marriage started to break down towards the end of our time living and working in the US," says Kai. The couple moved Stateside for Kai's husband's job, shortly after tying the knot. "I wanted to move back to London but my partner wanted to move to Australia. Where we were going to ‘settle’ was probably the biggest thing we couldn’t decide on. Among COVID-19, lockdowns and other things, the main contributor was that we ended up opening our marriage and we inevitably fell out of love with one another over time. A medley of factors, really."
As Kai knows all too well, prior to these changes you needed a good justification to file for divorce in England and Wales. "Under the previous law, couples had to use one of five facts to prove the marriage has broken down irretrievably: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years' separation if both agree or five years if only one wants the divorce," explains Kate. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 103,592 divorces were granted in England and Wales in 2020. "Same-sex couples are not entitled to use adultery [as a justification] under the current law," adds Kate. "The latest stats from the ONS show that this leaves over 50% of separating couples blaming their partner, even when their split is amicable."
This archaic process has been a thing of the past in Scotland since 2006, when the country introduced no-fault divorce (provided the couple had lived apart for a year). Northern Ireland also allows couples to divorce after one year of separation on the grounds of an 'irretrievable breakdown'. California was the first US state to introduce the law, in 1970. Australia followed in 1975. Now, in the UK, the narrative will start to take a different course. "For the first time, couples will be able to make a joint application stating that the marriage has broken down irretrievably," says Kate of the new legislation. "This will benefit many couples who in the past have had to endure mental, emotional and relationship turmoil due to the archaic nature of the divorce process." 
Kai thinks this new process would have eliminated the blame game after her marriage ended. "I felt like my partner was getting back at me for me leaving him and ending our relationship," she says. "I totally know this isn’t what happened but emotions, eh? And it would have avoided some blame or feelings of shame." Of course, some couples believe there is one guilty person in the breakdown of a relationship. But ultimately, pointing the finger and blaming your partner can do great damage – particularly when there are children involved. And it can prolong a horrible feeling of resentment. 

The new divorce law will help neutralise the blame game and help soothe what can only be described as one of the most heartbreaking processes I've gone through.

"No-fault divorce will absolutely benefit couples looking to divorce without acrimony by allowing couples to avoid having to start their divorce process blaming each other," says Kate. "The current divorce system forces people to get bogged down in the specifics of their relationship breakdown rather than focusing on creating their futures apart, even if they have a desire to remain civil. Blaming one person can have an incredibly negative effect on any future friendship or co-parenting relationship and makes it harder to negotiate future goals, finances and the co-parenting arrangement."
The question remains: will the new legislation alter how we see divorce or relationship breakups? "I don’t think it’ll change the narrative of them ending necessarily," says Kai. "It will more so neutralise the blame game and help soothe what can only be described as one of the most heartbreaking processes I’ve gone through."
Regardless of the changes to the law, Kai believes that everyone going through a big breakup should seek therapy – whether or not you're married or in a civil partnership. "It’s the start of an intense grieving period of that relationship and can feel really isolating, especially if nobody around you is going through the same thing," she says. "Give yourself time to heal and the space to feel what you’re feeling. Don’t judge yourself if you’re fine one day and in tears on the floor the next. It’ll get worse before it gets better. But it WILL get better, and inevitably you’ll come out so much happier. Be kind to yourself." Being kind to yourself begins with being kind during the breakup or divorce. Great relationships end and it doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault. Period. 

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