Divorce laws look set to change, with the government planning to introduce reforms designed to reduce family conflict.
The proposals follow a public consultation, with family justice professionals and others voicing their support for reform.
It will mean an update to the 50-year old divorce laws, which have been shown to make the conflict worse between divorcing couples.
As part of the consultation, it was found that the current divorce system can reduce prospects for reconciliation, and can also damage relationships between parents and children, following the divorce.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said:
“Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.
“While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.
“So I have listened to calls for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame game for good.”
Aidan Jones OBE, Chief Executive at relationship support charity, Relate said:
“This much-needed change to the law is good news for divorcing couples and particularly for any children involved.
“The outdated fault-based divorce system led parting couples to apportion blame, often resulting in increased animosity and making it harder for ex-partners to develop positive relationships as co-parents.
“As a large body of evidence shows, parental conflict is damaging to children’s wellbeing and chances in life, whether the parents are together or separated. It’s good that the government has listened and taken action on this, demonstrating commitment to reducing parental conflict.
“While divorce isn’t a decision that people tend to take lightly, we do support the extension of the minimum timeframe which will allow more time to reflect, give things another go if appropriate, and access support such as relationship counselling or mediation.”
Under current laws, divorce requires proof that a marriage has broken down irretrievably. It forces spouses to provide evidence of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or years of separation, even where a mutual decision has been taken to part ways.
In practice, very few divorces are contested in the courts. But the ability to fight the divorce has been used by abusive partners to continue their own coercive and controlling behaviour.
This ability to contest a divorce is effectively removed under the new rules.
Under the new proposals, the government will remove these grounds for divorce, retaining the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce.
Instead of having to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation, divorcing couples will instead need to give a statement of irretrievable breakdown.
The existing two-stage legal process referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute, will remain in place.
There will also be a new option for a joint application for divorce. Each spouse will still be able to initiate the process on a sole basis.
One changes being introduced as part of the new proposals which could be unpopular is the introduction of a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from petition stage to final divorce.
There will be a minimum timeframe of 20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi, and then 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute.
This new minimum timescale reflects views in the consultation that couples ‘feel divorced’ when the court grants a provisional decree of divorce, the decree nisi.
Having a minimum timescale between petition and decree nisi is designed to give divorcing couples a meaningful period of reflection, during which time they have the opportunity to stop the process.
But where divorce is inevitable, the minimum timescale will better enable couples to reach agreement on practical arrangements for the future.
Courts will retain the power to expedite the process where appropriate. The new divorce legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows.
If you are considering divorce, it’s essential to seek professional advice as early as possible in the process.
In addition to legal advice from an experienced family law professional, you should speak to a financial planner too so you can understand all of the personal finance implications and options.