The Divorce, Separation and Dissolution Bill, initially introduced in June 2019, was delayed twice in parliament but is up for debate again in 2020.
Jenna Atkinson from Harrison Drury’s divorce and family law team outlines how the proposed changes to the legislation will help bring the divorce process into the 21st century.
The bill introduces provision for no-fault divorce and the proposed legislation to remove ‘blame’ from the divorce process reached the last stage of its parliamentary journey in the House of Commons on 17 June, 2020. The latest report is that the bill will return to the House of Lords to consider final amendments before receiving Royal Assent, which is the final stage before it becomes law.
This will mean the divorce laws in England and Wales will be overhauled providing divorcing couples with a less acrimonious and quicker process. According to recent statistics, 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce. These reforms will benefit many divorcing couples who would prefer a more amicable process where neither party to the marriage has to place ‘fault’ on the other for the breakdown of the marriage.
What the current grounds for divorce require
The current law on divorce, set out in Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, provides that the sole ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. One of five facts must then be proved. If the parties do not wish to wait for a period of two years’ separation (with the party responding to the divorce giving consent to a divorce), they currently have to rely on the behaviour of the other person or adultery.
Alternatively, there will have to have been a period of desertion or a separation of five years. Adultery and behaviour and putting blame on the other spouse as to the reasons for the marriage breakdown, often creates acrimony, tension and further upset between the parties during one of the most difficult times of their lives.
How the new legislation will work
It is thought, based on initial reports on the new legislation that there will be a requirement for divorcing couples to produce a statement regarding their marriage breaking down irretrievably. The new legislation will also remove the option of contesting a divorce if both parties to the divorce are not in agreement.
There will be a minimum period of six months from the date the divorce petition is issued to Decree Absolute, the end of the marriage. The intention of this is to allow a period of reflection for the parties.
At the end of this period, the Applicant will have to affirm their decision to seek a divorce before a Decree Absolute is then granted by the court.
A welcome reform for the 21st century
It is time that divorce law was brought into the 21st century and it is a welcome reform for family lawyers. It is hoped that the forms will mean lawyers can support couples to resolve matters in a constructive and amicable way with the best interests of the children at the heart of all decisions.
Family lawyer organisations such as Resolution, founded in 1982, who are committed to a non-confrontational approach in family cases, have long been campaigning for a change in the law, which has remained the same for almost 50 years.
Divorce is not a decision people take lightly, particularly where children are involved. It is hoped the proposed new reforms will create a more constructive and amicable path for the future of family law. It is thought however, based on recent updates, that the legislation may not come into effect until Autumn 2021 or early 2022. MPs in parliament have overwhelmingly supported the proposed reforms to the current law on divorce in England and Wales.
Harrison Drury’s divorce and family law team has extensive experience in dealing with issues concerning divorce, matrimonial financial matters and children issues. To arrange an initial no-obligation consultation please call us on 01772 258321.
Given the current social distancing measures, we can provide advice by various means including email, telephone, FaceTime or Skype in order to help you.