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No fault divorce comes closer as Divorce Bill receives Royal Assent

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The long awaited changes to the divorce regime which seek to remove the need to attribute blame to one party will come into force next year as the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has received Royal Assent.  Sam Miles, Partner in our Family Law team, here explains what this will mean for couples in the future seeking a divorce, and how we can support couples currently facing a separation.

What are the current grounds for divorce?

As it stands under current law, there are five grounds for divorce which include:

  • Adultery (after you have been married for one year)
  • Unreasonable behaviour (after you have been married for one year)
  • Separation for two years where both parties consent to the divorce
  • Separation for five years
  • Desertion for two years

“It is clear from this list that in order to obtain a divorce sooner than two years from separation, there needs to be an element of blame placed onto one of the parties, i.e. their adultery or unreasonable behaviour,” explains Sam.  “Divorce will always be an emotional and distressing time, no matter the circumstances and even if both parties are in agreement.  Having this additional burden of placing blame on one party can heighten existing feelings of hostility or create them where they do not exist, which will inevitably have an impact on future relationships between the couple and when it comes to making decisions regarding arrangements for their children or finances.”

What changes will the new Divorce Bill implement?

There are several important and progressive changes that will be introduced with the Bill, including:

  • The most fundamental change will be that a couple can make an application for divorce based on irretrievable breakdown, meaning that neither party has to be blamed for the end of the marriage.
  • A statement would be made to this effect, either individually or jointly.  If the statement is made individually, there will be no opportunity for the other party to contest this unless there are grounds of coercion or fraud.
  • A new timeframe will be implemented which requires there be a six month period between filing for divorce to it being granted.  This will allow couples the opportunity to either change their decision should they wish to, or give them more time to agree important decisions regarding their children and/or finances.
  • Under the new Bill, the terminology will also be changed from “decree nisi” and “decree absolute” to “conditional order” and “final order”, and “petitioners” will also become “applicants”.

The Bill was originally introduced in June 2019 after the high profile case of Tini Owens, and a public consultation.  Following support from family law practitioners and organisations, including Resolution, the Bill passed the House of Commons on 17th June.  As these are radical changes to the divorce system, appropriate time needs to be taken to implement the necessary amendments to the Court process, both online and offline.  Therefore, it is likely we will not see couples able to use the new Bill until late 2021.

“Divorce law has not seen any changes for decades, so this move is long overdue,” concludes Sam.  “While no couple wishes their marriage to end in divorce, sometimes it is unavoidable, and I have seen first hand the fallout that can come from having to attribute blame to one party, and the problems that can arise from having to wait at least two years if there is no blame to place.  While there have been arguments that suggest these new laws will harm the institution of marriage by making it easier to get divorced, in fact it allows couples to have a more amicable split if that is the decision they reach, resulting in less stress and harm on their mental wellbeing, not only for them but also for their children.”

If you need advice about divorce or separation, you will be looking for professional and supportive advice to help you understand the best option and how you can move forward in your life.  To find out more about how we can help you, particularly during the current covid-19 pandemic, or for information on our fixed fee divorce packages, you can contact us today on 023 8071 7431 or email familyenquiries@warnergoodman.co.uk

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.