Old fashioned divorce laws that force couples to blame one another for the breakdown of their marriage will soon be a thing of the past.
In the biggest change to divorce laws in around 50 years, facilitated by The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, is now on its way as the bill made its first passage through the House of Lords on 7th January 2020 and will now make its way through Parliament.
‘No-fault’ divorce, as the abolition of divorce by blaming the other person is often called, will mean that people who are divorcing will no longer need to make accusations against one another about ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or ‘adultery’ if they wish to divorce after less than two years’ separation. Unreasonable behaviour is the most commonly used reason for divorce according to the Office for National Statistics. In the period 2016 – 2018, almost half of all divorce petitions were based on blame. 46.4% of divorce petitions were based on the behaviour fact, rising to 47.1% when adultery is added to the statistics.
The new legislation will end this ‘blame game’, allowing one or both people to pursue a divorce by simply making a statement saying that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The couple will no longer need to evidence one of the five current facts:
- Unreasonable behaviour (blame)
- Adultery (blame)
- Desertion (blame)
- 2 years’ separation (with agreement of the other spouse)
- 5 years’ separation
Also, if only one spouse wants the divorce, the other will not be able to contest it – although, at present, less than 2% of divorces are contested. However, under the new legislation, a divorce will be challengeable on the basis of legal validity, jurisdiction, fraud, coercion or procedure.
The new legislation will introduce a 20-week period that must elapse between the petition date and the court granting the decree nisi. The current six-week period before which the decree absolute can be applied for (following the decree nisi) will be maintained.
The current law relating to financial provision on divorce will stay the same. Financial issues are dealt with as a separate issue to the divorce itself.
Parallel changes to the laws on the dissolution of civil partnership will also made.
Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP says of the new bill:
“The institution of marriage will always be vitally important, but we must never allow a situation where our laws exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing.
Our reforms will stop divorcing couples having to make unnecessary allegations against one another and instead help them focus on separating amicably.”
Juliette Dalrymple, family and children mediator at Family Matters says:
“Family Matters has seen an increase in the numbers of people seeing mediation as a constructive alternative to going through the court process to agree arrangements for children or finances. This change in the law will encourage this and reduce the need for acrimonious and expensive legal proceedings.”