10 January 2020
‘No fault’ divorce to be made law
The Divorce, Separation and Dissolution Bill, which includes the provision for ‘no fault divorce,’ has now had two readings and gone through the committee stage in the House of Commons. The Bill is currently in the report stage, and it is hoped may be introduced to the House of Lords shortly.
This recent progress comes after the Bill, which was originally introduced in June 2019, failed to complete its way through parliament before the unlawful prorogation of parliament, and subsequently the snap UK general election in December 2019.
According to the Government the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will:
- 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 the Statement itself will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
- Introduces a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to the granting of a ‘decree nisi’ (which is the provisional decree of divorce). The aim being to allow a greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible and divorce is inevitable.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has said: '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. By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.'
Although welcomed by many, Sue Andrews, a Family Partner at B P Collins LLP, believes that the ‘no fault’ divorce bill is not the ‘cure all’ many seem to think it will be and communication and respect are still essential in reaching an amicable divorce.
Sue Andrews says:
“The government hopes that these changes in divorce law will result in less acrimony between divorcing couples by ending the ‘blame game’.
“However, these changes are to the divorce process, which doesn’t do any more than give legal recognition to the breakdown of the marriage and are not a cure all for taking away the pain of separation.
"In our experience, acrimony stems from how spouses treat each other and react to the breakdown of their relationship. It can have a lot to do with finding out that their spouse was in another relationship, fear of the future, not being with their children each day, having to share what one person feels is their hard-earned resources or fear of not coping financially.
"So, although this change is welcomed, respect and communication between spouses, having counselling, being honest, not rushing into anything and choosing your lawyer carefully are essential in achieving a clean and amicable divorce.”
It is important to note that the filing of the initial divorce application is a distinct and separate part of the overall matters which need to be dealt with by separating married couples. While filing a ‘no fault’ divorce application may assist couples in keeping matters calm at the first stage, it does not guarantee amicable discussions regarding the division of family finances, or an agreement about the arrangements for children.
The purported ‘needless antagonism’ is not caused solely by the divorce petition; so, amending the ‘fact’ on which a divorce is based will not in itself fix that. The couple themselves dictate the direction and atmosphere in which such matters are dealt with and so it is important to maintain respect for your former partner and at all times be honest and upfront with each other.