The bill, which proposes the biggest change in divorce law for 50 years and will bring about ‘no-fault divorce’, started in the House of Lords in January 2020 and has passed all stages in that House. It is now about half-way through the House of Commons, in which the next stage is the Committee stage (date is yet to be determined), where each part of the bill and any proposals for change to it will be debated. The bill will receive royal assent at the end of the House of Commons stages when it will become law.
There is widespread support to end the need for couples to blame one another for the breakdown of their marriage or civil partnership, including from legal professionals and judges.
At present, you can only petition for divorce or dissolution of civil partnership by claiming one of five facts, three of which attribute blame to your spouse or civil partner. They are:
- Adultery. You find it intolerable to live with your spouse or civil partner as they have committed adultery. (Adultery does not apply to same-sex civil partnerships or same-sex marriages). (blame)
- Unreasonable behaviour. Your spouse has behaved in a way that is so unreasonable that you find it intolerable to live with them. (blame)
- Desertion. Your spouse has deserted you. (blame)
- Two-year separation. You have been separated for a period of two years and your spouse/civil partner consents to a divorce.
- Five-year separation. You have been separated for a period of five years – you do not need consent.
The shortest period in which you can petition for a divorce or dissolution of civil partnership without attributing blame is two years, as long as you have your spouse’s/civil partner’s consent. If you do not, you must wait five years before you can petition for divorce.
Essentially, the effect of this has been to encourage couples who wish to separate to claim unreasonable behaviour, even where there has been none. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that in the period 2016 – 2018, almost half (46.4%) of all divorce petitions were based on the behaviour fact, rising to 47.1% when adultery is added to the statistics.
Bradie Pell, partner and head of Graysons’ family team says:
“New legislation is overdue, as was evidenced in the case of Owens v Owens. In this case, Tini Owens’ divorce petition on the basis of unreasonable behaviour was denied, even when it went to the Court of Appeal. Judges at that court said they had ‘uneasy feelings’ – but could do nothing until Parliament changed the law. Thank goodness that is now happening, with the proposed legislation meaning that:
- Spouses/civil partners won’t 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. As is currently the case, there will be a minimum period of six weeks between receiving decree nisi and applying for decree absolute.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, does not cover financial issues relating to divorce. These will still be dealt with as a separate issue to the divorce itself.”
If you are separating or divorcing, or you need advice or assistance on any family law related issue, contact our expertsnow. We are all working safely, from home, and can discuss your issues by telephone, video call or email.
You can also find a wealth of information on our family law web pages.
Author: Bradie Pell, partner and head of the family team