Long-awaited divorce reforms are back on the agenda following numerous delays, in the hopes that “no-fault” divorce will be introduced. The Divorce, Separation and Dissolution Bill was introduced in June before coming to a standstill as a result in changes at Parliament, before being re-introduced in January. What does this bill mean for separating couples?
Currently, there is one ground for divorce, which is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. To prove that, it is necessary to rely on one of five facts: unreasonable behaviour; adultery; two years’ separation (with the other parties’ consent); two years’ desertion or five years’ separation. This means that, unless you have been separated for two years and both agree that the marriage has come to an end, you have no choice but to blame the other person for the breakdown of the marriage.
Currently, if the other party objects, it will mean waiting five years after separation before being able to divorce. In some cases, this has allowed domestic abusers to exercise further control over their victim by trapping their spouse in the marriage for five years.
Family solicitors have been campaigning for a change in this law for some time. There are lots of different issues that need to be resolved when a marriage breaks down such as what to do with the house, how the children will split their time and where the parties’ will live. Even when things have been relatively amicable up until that point, the process of having to apportion blame can turn things sour pretty quickly and risks exacerbating conflict, which could damage the children of the family. The Justice Secretary has referred to fault-based divorce as “needless anatagonism” at a time when cooperation is to be encouraged.
The new law will remove the need to rely on one of the five facts, and instead require a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This can be done as a joint statement, or by an individual. The possibility of contesting the decision to divorce will also be removed.
Some critics have said that the change in the law undermines the institution of marriage by making the divorce process “too easy”. However, the new law provides for 20 weeks to pass before a conditional order of divorce can be made, ensuring the parties have thought through their actions before the divorce is final.
Spectrum Family Law are able to give detailed advice about divorce and financial and child arrangement issues following relationship breakdown and point you in the right direction, whether that is making an application to the court or recommending alternative methods of dispute resolution.
For further information or to arrange an appointment please email or telephone 01279 799598.
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