Following public and professional outcry over the state of the law and responses to public consultation at the end of 2018, the Government today announced (9th April 2019) that divorcing couples will no longer have to blame each other for the breakdown of their marriage.
Part of the rationale was the finding from the consultation response that the current system, which is around 50 years old but which derives from laws from several hundred years ago, can work against any prospect of reconciliation. It can also be damaging to children by undermining the relationship between parents after 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 While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.
Currently, to bring a divorce within 2 years’ of separation, allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour are required – i.e. that the other party has behaved in such a way that the party bringing the divorce cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.
That in itself requires the divorce solicitor to examine and analyse allegations when it should not be necessary. The vast majority of petitions are brought relaying on the fact of unreasonable behaviour. This is particularly odd when both couples have actually agreed to divorce quite amicably – allegations of blame is still needed for a petition to be brought less than 2 years after separation.
Proposals for changes to the law include:
- retaining the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce
- replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
- creating the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process
- removing the ability to contest a divorce
- introducing a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute).
Hundreds of years of needing to prove fault will be a hard mentality to shift. Almost certainly some people ‘wronged’ in marriage will feel the need to commit their views to writing formally. With the passing of the new law, this will be consigned to a moral, rather than a legal issue.
Giles Wilson support this much-needed change to the law as good news for divorcing couples and particularly for any children involved.
The family team at Giles Wilson has recently expanded and continues to grow. If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, please contact us for an initial discussion