Government confirms changes to divorce law to end blame game

The government has confirmed that it will introduce new legislation to end the blame game for divorcing couples. It’s hoped the new approach will help reduce family conflict.

The move follows a public consultation where family justice professionals and those with direct experience of divorce voiced their support for reform. New legislation will therefore be introduced to Parliament to update our 50-year-old divorce law which has been shown to exacerbate conflict.

Under the current system, there are five reasons for being granted a divorce by the courts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation if both agree to the divorce, or five years separation, even if the husband or wife disagrees.

This has led to many couples using claims of unreasonable behaviour as a way avoiding the requirement to wait two years.

Ministers are acting to change the law after responses also revealed that the current system can work against any prospect of reconciliation and can 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“While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples. So I have listened to calls for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame game for good.”

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.

retaining the two-stage legal process currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute

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).

The divorce will not be automatic at a fixed date at the end of the minimum timeframe, but will require the applicant to continue to affirm their decision to seek a divorce. This keeps the important safeguards of the existing process.

Parallel changes will be made to the law governing the dissolution of a civil partnership which broadly mirrors the legal process for obtaining a divorce.

The proposed legislation will not cover other areas of matrimonial law such as financial provision. Financial provision on divorce is handled in separate proceedings and the court has wide discretion to provide for future financial needs.

The new legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.