New Divorce Law resurrected in 2020
17th February, 2020
Supporters of the long awaited change to our outdated divorce laws were disappointed that the Divorce, Separation and Dissolution Bill was stopped in its tracks with the prorogation of Parliament at the end of 2019.
Enthusiasts have long campaigned for the law on divorce to be overhauled and are triumphant that the Bill has been reintroduced before Parliament this month.
The Bill that seeks to reduce the family conflict that the current divorce procedure often creates has been referred to as the biggest shake up of divorce law in this country for half a century.
The idea is to bring about what has been termed by campaigners, as a ‘no-fault divorce’. The current divorce laws require a ‘fault based’ divorce on the grounds of the other person’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour when a divorce is sought before the couple have been separated for 2 years.
The proposed changes will:
- Allow couples to make a sole or joint statement of ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’ replacing the need to provide reasons or fault as to why the marriage has broken down;
- Remove the opportunity to contest the divorce. The statement of irretrievable breakdown will be taken as conclusive evidence for the demise of the marriage.
- Introduce a mandatory minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of the proceedings to the pronouncement of the provisional decree of divorce, the Decree Nisi.
In an age where separating couples are encouraged to take a conciliatory approach towards the resolution of arrangements for their finances and child arrangements, by attending at mediation, or through collaborative law processes, removing the conflict caused by blaming the other spouse has its obvious benefits.
Critics of the proposed new laws have concerns that making the process too simplistic might shake the core values of marriage and allow people to rush into a divorce without giving it proper thought. There is further apprehension that when one party is disempowered, perhaps as a result of domestic abuse, they could be additionally targeted with a divorce being issued against them without the perpetrator having to produce any valid reasons for the marriage breakdown. Others worry that removing the ability for one person to state their case with the true reasons for the divorce could limit their closure process that the divorce can bring.
Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP has supported the changes, reassuring the opponents to the new laws that “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.”
Overall the appetite for the change amongst family lawyers is welcomed. The proposed modifications encourage a less acrimonious start to the process of separation and will greatly assist those who face new challenges as co-parents. The evidence of harm caused to children caught in the conflict of separating parents is well documented and to minimise the chances of this must be a positive step.
As a Resolution accredited family Lawyer and mediator specialising in divorce, I welcome the changes ahead. Most separating couples do not take the decision to divorce lightly. The checks and balances brought by the minimum timeframe should ensure that these variations will allow a shift in focus away from blame and towards resolution, with the parties able to focus instead on the future financial and child arrangements in a less contentious divorce process.
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