On Tuesday 9th April 2019 the Justice Secretary announced that divorcing couples will no longer have to appoint blame on their spouse in their divorce application.
There are to be changes made to the divorce law in England and Wales “to help reduce family conflict”.
The present law has been in place for 50 years and desperately needed updating. Today’s announcement is fantastic news after years of tireless campaigning by Resolution a national organisation of divorce professionals, to get the law changed.
Why are the changes needed?
As the law presently stands, if someone wishes to get a divorce and they have not been living apart for at least 2 years (and both parties do not agree for there to be a divorce), they must choose to rely on either the fact of “adultery” or “unreasonable behaviour” in their divorce application.
Setting out in black and white in the divorce application personal details of incidents and situations that have taken place during the marriage, risks causing unnecessary additional animosity between the couple at the very first stage of the divorce process. I see the consequences of this first hand, in my work as a divorce consultant. It causes great bitterness and upset.
It can also risk serious consequences in cases of emotional and/or physical abuse. Clients I have worked with who have been the victim of abuse are usually terrified of having to formally state what has happened to them in during the marriage, in fear of comeback from their spouse (inflicting further abuse on them).
In addition, the reasons cited in the divorce petition have little to no bearing on resolving either children or financial matters, so there is really no need to create further acrimony between the couple. No one gets married thinking that they will end up getting a divorce and it is already a difficult and upsetting situation for everyone involved. The present requirement to cite reasons for the divorce is unnecessary and inappropriate.
What are the changes to be made?
The press release from the Ministry for Justice has announced that the proposed changes to the law will 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).
Who will the changes to the law benefit?
- The divorcing couple – Anyone and everyone considering divorce will now have the opportunity to avoid appointing blame on their spouse to initiate a divorce.
- The children – It will also hugely benefit any children of the family, by reducing the risk of conflict between their parents which can arise when having to cite reasons for the breakdown of the relationship in the divorce application.
- Victims of abuse – The changes could benefit individuals wanting a divorce from an abusive spouse. No longer will they have the fear of possible repercussions of citing the details of the abuse in the divorce application which gets seen by the spouse.
- Divorce professionals – will no longer need to take their clients instructions for the grounds for the divorce which can cause upset and stress for the client; being able instead to concentrate on providing constructive advice about financial issues and arrangements for the children.
When will the changes to the law come in?
We don’t have a date set at the moment and have been told that the new laws will be made “when parliamentary time allows”. I suspect it will take some time before the new laws are available to divorcing couples as time will need to be spent in carefully drafting the new laws as well as the new court documents prepared etc.
I have started work with several new clients over the last few months who have asked me when the changes to the grounds available for divorce in England and Wales will come in to force, as they wish to avoid “blaming” their spouse for the divorce. They have been holding off on issuing their divorce in the hope that they will soon have the opportunity to issue a “no fault” divorce application. It is great to be able to now tell them that the changes will happen and soon. Watch this space and fingers crossed.
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