Divorce Law Reforms

22 May 2019

You may have read in the papers today Justice Secretary David Gauke has announced much-needed changes to our outdated divorce laws. Currently divorcing spouses must rely on one of five ‘facts’ to show their marriage has broken down, three of which place blame at one party’s door and the other two rely on a period of separation of at least two years. This means that a couple that do not wish to blame each other for the divorce must wait at least 2 years before starting the process. Resolution, the organisation for family lawyers, has been lobbying for a change to the divorce for many years and finally the Ministry of Justice, today, 9 April 2019, have announced that the law will be reformed to reduce family conflict. Osbornes’ Family Lawyers and Resolution members have supported the change and welcome the proposals.

At this stage, the law has not been changed but the new law will be introduced “as soon as parliamentary time allows”. In summary, the proposals consist of:

  • Removing the requirement to evidence one of the five ‘facts’ and replacing them with a statement of irretrievable breakdown. This means one party will not have to wait at least two years or ‘blame’ the other party for adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion;
  • Allowing an option for a joint application for divorce meaning that where the decision is mutual, both parties can initiate the process;
  • Removing the opportunity to defend the divorce as it does not serve the interests of either party. Where there are issues regarding jurisdiction, validity, coercion, procedural issues or fraud the divorce petition can still be challenged but not where one party does not believe the marriage has broken down;
  • Introducing a minimum time frame of 6 months from petition stage through to decree absolute (the final stage in the process). In practice a divorce generally takes 6 months on average in any event;
  • Updating the terminology in the divorce. Currently we use “Petitioner”, “Decree Nisi” and “Decree Absolute” and it is proposed that these are changed to “Applicant” “Conditional Order” and “Final Order” respectively;

The Government has confirmed that the two stage process currently referred to as the Decree Nisi and Absolute will remain in force. This means that a divorce will not be final until the Decree Absolute (or soon to be the final order) has been granted and the one year bar would remain in place meaning a divorce cannot be started until 12 months has elapsed since the date of the marriage. This will give parties time to reflect.

It is positive that the Government has appreciated our outdated divorce laws demanded an overhaul in line with modern society.

Stay tuned!

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