The UK could be seeing the most significant change to divorce law in more than half a century, with the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill reintroduced to Parliament on 7 January 2020. After coming to a standstill twice the previous year, the Bill is said to revolutionise the way in which couples initiate the divorce process, providing a more collaborative divorce process by removing the need to blame the other party.
With the Bill now completed its House of Lords stages, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland stated that the legislative changes are necessary to spare “individuals the need to play the blame game… stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can move on with their lives.” This Bill is expected to have its second reading debate in the House of Commons on a date to be announced.
What is the current law on divorce in England and Wales?
At present, couples looking to divorce must cite and provide evidence of at least one of five grounds for divorce. These grounds are:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Two years of separation where the other spouse does not wish to contest the divorce
- Five years of separation where the other party disagrees with the divorce
The system requires one party to initiate the process of filing for divorce and, as part of the procedure, make an accusation about the conduct of the other party. As a result, the entire divorce process is fault-based and asks for evidence concerning the guilt of one party to the marriage.
If a couple cannot evidence such behaviour, they face two years of living separately before they can legally divorce, even if they both wish to do so. This becomes more complex when one party wants to contest the divorce, as the couple must live separately for five years in order for one party to bring the marriage to an end.
In addition to the practical and emotional problems the current law can create, for some couples, living separately is not financially viable. Divorce settlement, childcare arrangements and other financial matters will need to be settled for many before they could realistically run two households.
What changes are being introduced by the Bill?
The proposed reform could mean the requirement to provide evidence against a spouse's behaviour will be removed. Instead, couples can mutually provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as the sole ground for divorce.
Additionally, the Bill will remove the possibility of contesting the divorce, making it much simpler for one party to end the legal relationship. A statement of irretrievable breakdown can be provided by one party of the marriage to facilitate the divorce, and they will not be required to provide evidence of bad behaviour.
The changes will also be mirrored in the law concerning the dissolution of a civil partnership.
Why is no-fault divorce necessary?
Chief executive at relationships charity Relate, Aidan Jones, outlined how the changes will help to minimise animosity between divorcing parents as well as the overall effects divorce can have on families.
The impact of divorce on children
Recent research from the charity indicated that conflict between parents during divorce was the most damaging element for children in the entire divorce proceedings. Jones believes it is crucial the bill passes for those children involved as trying to understand who is at fault “can be difficult to navigate”.
Reflect modern society
The changes to the law are also thought to better reflect our modern society and attitude towards relationships and marriage. The legislation was previously designed to prevent couples divorcing in a time where there was a stigma attached to divorce, and society favoured the traditional family model. This has changed, and as a result, the law is changing to reflect current societal expectations.
Protect those in abusive relationships
Another important consideration from the government was the ability for abusive spouses to trap their partner in a marriage for five years by contesting the divorce. The government statement says the new Bill "will stop one partner contesting a divorce if the other wants one – which in some cases has allowed domestic abusers to exercise further coercive control over their victim."
Contact Stuart Gordon, Divorce Solicitors Leeds
At Stuart Gordon Solicitors, our family lawyers understand that you will have many questions about divorce, child law, and financial settlements. We are here to assist you at every stage of the divorce process.
In order to discuss your specific circumstances and concerns with us, ask any questions, or arrange a meeting with a member of our team, please contact Stuart Gordon Solicitors today. You can get in touch with us by phone, email or via the website contact form. We look forward to helping you at this challenging time. Call us today on 0113 2444 999 to arrange a free initial consultation or click here to contact us online.