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Welcome changes to divorce laws

05 Jun 2019

The Government’s recent announcement about changes to divorce law is well overdue and welcome.

The present law dates from the late 1960s and requires one spouse to accuse the other of adultery; behaving in such a way that one party cannot reasonably be expected to live with the other party; or desertion, before they can apply for a divorce, (the “fault based” facts) or wait for two years after separating and hope that the other party will agree, or wait for five years after separating.

This means that when a marriage has broken down and people want a fresh start and a new beginning, they have to look backwards and blame the other party in order to apply for a divorce, which inevitably increases conflict at what is already a very emotional time, and can be damaging to children because the relationship between the parents is undermined because of the legal process.

There is a considerable amount of evidence that parental conflict is damaging to children’s wellbeing and chances in life, and it is welcome that the government has decided to scrap the fault based system.

Between 2016 and 2018, almost 60% of divorce applications were on “fault based” facts (the behaviour fact accounting for nearly half of all divorce applications) and 40% were based on separation facts.

Proposals for changes to the law include:

  • replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a straightforward statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down;
  • creating the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process;
  • removing the ability to contest a divorce; and
  • introducing a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from application to final divorce: twenty weeks from the application stage to the decree nisi followed by six weeks from the decree nisi to the final, decree absolute stage.
Nicola Matthews 2017

It is felt that establishing the minimum initial twenty week timeframe will provide the applicant with a meaningful period of reflection and the opportunity to turn back. The divorce will not be automatic at a fixed date at the end of the minimum timeframe, and will still require the applicant to confirm that they wish for the divorce process to be concluded.

The same changes will also be made to the law relating to the dissolution of a civil partnership which broadly mirrors the legal process for obtaining a divorce.

The new legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

It is hoped that after the introduction of the new law couples will be more likely to work together collaboratively, or through mediation, to arrive at solutions to issues that arise on separation, because hostility will not have been created by a party having to apportion blame to bring the marriage to a legal conclusion.  All being well, parents in the future may be able to put aside the reasons why their marriage did not work out and look forward to a fresh start where they make their children the first priority when making arrangements for when the children spend time with each parent and how their finances can become disentangled.

For more information on any of the above, or how we could help you, please contact Nicola Matthews, or call 0191 232 8345.