What is it all about?
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill considered “the biggest shake-up of divorce laws in half a century” is due to be implemented in England and Wales next Autumn. This new law aims to “reduce the impact that allegations of blame can have on a couple and in particular children” and avoid confrontation wherever possible.
What is the current law?
If you are currently seeking a divorce in the England and Wales, one spouse must make an accusation against the other’s behaviour even if their decision to legally separate is mutual. These accusations must fall under the following:
- Unreasonable Behaviour
- You have been separated for two years or more (if both parties agree to it)
- You have been separated for five years or more (if one party wants to stay married)
The current divorce laws have been heavily criticised for decades for being outdated as well as for encouraging unnecessary conflict between many couples who mutually agree on moving forward with their divorce. Often marriage breakdowns occur naturally and mutually – couples drift apart or want different things – why should the ‘blame game’ have to occur?
Furthermore, if one party within the couple wants to leave the marriage and divorce, why should they be obligated to prove their complaint or even be legally bound to stay married if the other party doesn’t comply with their motives? In the past there have been cases where people have been forced to remain married to discordant or even abusive spouses against their will due to the current divorce laws.
What are the changes?
The following changes (according to the Ministry of Justice) will be implemented following the divorce law changes:
- Replace the current requirement to evidence either a conduct or separation ‘fact’ with the provision of a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (couples can opt to make this a joint statement).
- Remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce, as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
- Introduce a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a conditional order of divorce may be made, allowing greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible and divorce is inevitable.
Response from the law community.
Jo Edwards, head of family at London firm Forsters, said: “Along with most family lawyers, and indeed the general public, I was thrilled to see the bill conclude its passage in parliament this week after 30 years of campaigning by Resolution and others and, in recent years, many false starts. Despite vocal last-minute attempts by some backbench MPs to derail the bill, we finally have the prospect of a more civilised, dignified divorce process fit for the 21st century.”
Whilst this has been a common reaction from family lawyers across the country, some have expressed concern regarding the notice period.
Simon Davis (President of the Law Society) said: “We have long argued the notice period should begin when the divorce application is received by the respondent rather than when the divorce is applied for – ensuring both partners are on the same page from the start and have sufficient time to seek the legal and financial advice they need. We commend the government for moving forward with the legislation and would welcome any opportunities to address our concerns around the notice period.”
Despite the notice period concerns it seems that the overall reaction about the No-Fault Divorce law has been positive!