On 9th April 2019 the Justice Secretary announced, after a long wait, that the Divorce laws in England and Wales are going to be reformed. The proposals seek to take away the need to blame one party, in the hope that this will reduce family conflict. This follows public consultation and is supported by many family law professionals.
To prove a marriage has irretrievably broken down, the current law requires one spouse to either allege adultery, stating that it is intolerable for them to live together, or detail behaviour that is unreasonable to expect them to continue to live together, otherwise having to wait for a number of years before being able to start divorce proceedings. In practice, this usually results in a spouse having to rely on the fault of the other party, and effectively blame them for the breakdown of the marriage which can create unnecessary difficulties and animosity.
Many separating couples seek to separate amicably, and those with children to enable them to work together and co-parent their children, however inevitably the pressures of divorce can have a direct impact upon the wellbeing of the children by witnessing their parents conflict.
The Government Website confirms the proposals include:
● retaining the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce
● replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
● retaining the two-stage legal process currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute
● 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
● introducing a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute).
It is more accepted now that people separate, and whilst the proposed reforms are not intended to undermine the institution of marriage, it recognizes that parties should not be trapped in unhappy marriages and removes the requirement to place blame as a way out. Parties are actively encouraged to mediate and work together to narrow, and resolve issues between them regarding finances and children matters, and avoid protracted legal proceedings. It is hoped that the intended changes will bring the outdated divorce laws in line with this approach.
No date has yet been set for the changes to become effective, however it gives a positive message that the long awaited reform is reality, and not just talk.
Head of Private Family