No-fault divorce moves a step closer

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The much-awaited introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce in the UK has moved another step closer as the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill comfortably passed the Second Reading stage in Parliament on 8 June 2020, with the expectation that it will become law early next year subject to amendments.

Having received final approval from the House of Commons, the Bill now passes to the House of Lords for amendment. However, on 18 June 2020, the Law Gazette reported that the implementation of the changes will not take place until the autumn of 2021. The delay is anticipated due to the level of detail contained in the new procedural rules and the knock-on effect on applications made either online or through Court forms. Some concerns have been raised over when the notice period for divorce proceedings should begin under the new regime and this is likely to be an issue addressed by the House of Lords.

Following a long and well-supported campaign to help make divorce process less confrontational, the passing of the Bill into law will allow separating couples to cite an irretrievable breakdown of their relationship as the ground for divorce. Under the current law, a party is required to prove that the other has committed adultery, behaved unreasonably, or deserted them in order for a divorce to granted. If none of these grounds can be proved, couples have to endure two years of separation with consent (or five years separation without consent) before being able to make an application.

It’s hoped that a change in the law to this effect will also assist couples to part on amicable terms which should then facilitate making arrangements regarding children and finances. Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the intention of the Bill is to make separation “less traumatic”.

If passed as anticipated, the key proposals that the Bill would introduce are:

  • Irretrievable breakdown of marriage will become the sole ground for divorce, removing the current requirement to satisfy one of the exisiting five grounds.
  • The divorce process will take a minimum period of 20 weeks to complete, from the start of proceedings to the divorce being made final.
  • Couples will be allowed to jointly apply for a divorce.
  • The terms ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’ will be replaced with ‘conditional order’ and final order. ‘Petitioners’ will referred to as ‘applicants’.

Demands for the modernisation of divorce law were crystallised by the case of Owens v Owens in 2018. The Court found that the couple’s marriage had irretrievably broken down but Mr Owens did not consent to their separation and contested the ruling. The case moved to the Supreme Court which found that Mrs Owens could not prove unreasonable behaviour and would have to wait until they had been separated for five years to apply for divorce.

The imminent overhaul of the law in England and Wales is to be welcomed. It will bring a long-awaited end to such cases and stop divorcing couples being exposed to unnecessarily confrontational and prolonged legal proceedings.

To discuss this further, or to raise any other family law issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch via our usual phone numbers and email addresses.