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No-fault divorce closer than ever

Antiquated divorce laws are coming to an end as The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has moved through parliament, with its second reading in the House of Lords on 5th February 2020.   This is a bill that will go through the House of Lords first and then through the House of Commons.  The next stage, the committee stage, will be on 3rd March 2020.

No fault divorce

Bradie Pell

The bill proposes the biggest change in divorce law for 50 years and, when passed, will bring an end to the need for couples to blame one another for the breakdown of their marriage or civil partnership.

At present, if you wish to divorce or dissolve your civil partnership, you have to claim one of five facts, three of which attribute blame to your spouse or civil partner.  They are:

  1. Your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with them. (Adultery does not apply to same-sex civil partnerships or same-sex marriages). (blame)
  2. Your spouse has behaved in a way that is so unreasonable that you find it intolerable to live with them. (blame)
  3. Your spouse has deserted you.  (blame)
  4. You have been separated for a period of 2 years and your spouse consents to a divorce.
  5. You have been separated for a period of five years.

If you do not wish to ‘blame’ your spouse or civil partner, you have to wait for two years (with their consent) or five years (without their consent) before you can divorce.  Essentially, this has meant that many people wishing to divorce have claimed unreasonable behaviour, even where there has been none.  According to the Office for National Statistics, in the period 2016 – 2018, almost half of all divorce petitions were based on blame.  46.4% of divorce petitions were based on the behaviour fact, rising to 47.1% when adultery is added to the statistics.

The proposed legislation will mean that:

  • Spouses/civil partners will no longer have to claim one of the five facts to petition for a divorce.
  • They will simply have to make a statement saying that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
  • The other spouse/civil partner will not be able to contest the divorce unless it is on the basis of legal validity, jurisdiction, fraud, coercion or procedure.
  • A 20-week period must elapse between the petition date and the court granting the decree nisi. The current minimum period of six-weeks between decree nisi and decree absolute being applied for will be maintained.

Financial issues relating to divorce will still be dealt with as a separate issue to the divorce itself.

There is widespread support for no-fault divorce, including from legal professionals and judges.   The Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor says of the new bill:

“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.

Our reforms will stop divorcing couples having to make unnecessary allegations against one another and instead help them focus on separating amicably.”

Author: Bradie Pell, head of the family department.

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