The government has announced that the divorce laws will be overhauled to reduce family conflict. Family lawyers have long campaigned for an end to the ‘blame game’.
If an individual currently wants to divorce and does not want to wait until they have been separated for at least two years (or five years if their spouse does not consent), they will need to assign ‘blame’ to their spouse and prove adultery, behaviour or desertion. This will involve providing in the divorce petition, for example, with adultery, the dates and locations at which the adultery took place.
However, many individuals simply want to start the divorce process and have no interest in blaming their spouse. Assigning blame creates tension and hostility between couples, when it may not have previously existed.
Most commonly, the divorce process needs to start to enable financial matters to be resolved and concluded. Without divorce proceedings at the decree nisi stage, no binding financial agreement can be put in place.
Looking ahead, under the new legislation the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage will remain the sole ground for divorce. But, there will be no need to assign blame or wait for a period of separation, a statement of irretrievable breakdown will suffice.
The application will also be able to be made jointly. This change will give couples more control over the situation and encourage cooperation.
The new legislation also removes the option for the spouse receiving the petition to contest the proceedings. Although defended divorce petitions are rare, a defended divorce can cause extreme stress and be used as way for controlling or abusive spouses to exert further control.
Some argue these changes encourage divorce and make it too easy. Let’s be clear, divorce is not an easy process and never will be. People do not take the sad decision to end their marriage lightly and when they come to see us, we are often their last port of call.
Also being introduced is a minimum six-month period between the date of the divorce petition to the conclusion of the divorce, giving parties time to reflect on matters and the opportunity to reconcile.
We must hope this change in the law will reduce hostility between those who need to maintain close links, particularly where they need to continue to co-parent children.
Should you wish to discuss these changes or any family law issue, please contact Marwa Hadi-Barnes, senior associate at DMH Stallard solicitors, who can be contacted on 01293 558596.