The Government is currently progressing the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill which has been making headlines as the “no-fault” divorce law.
The biggest change to the divorce legislation in England for 50 years should make it easier and less stressful for couples to part ways.
In fault-based grounds for divorce, currently one spouse must allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour by the other for divorce proceedings to start straight away. These types of divorce currently account for more than 60,000 divorces each year but the process of allegations, accusations and ‘mudslinging’ in order to secure a divorce can put unnecessary strain on families and particularly any children.
Although ‘no-fault’ divorces are already in force in the UK, in England couples must be separated or have evidence they are living separate lives for at least two years - causing often painful delays for both parties.
Meanwhile, it is still possible for one spouse to refuse a divorce if there has not been any unreasonable behaviour. The new legislation appears to be particularly targeting this type of scenario, stopping people being locked in relationships they no longer want to be in - this is particularly important should there be any indication of coercive control which is becoming increasingly prevalent.
The changes to the rules will keep “irretrievable breakdown” as the sole ground for divorce but, rather than providing evidence of unreasonable behaviour or a long period of separation, spouses will be required to make a statement that the marriage has broken down, while the right to contest a divorce will be scrapped.
While the new legislation should make it easier and quicker to get a divorce, evidence from other countries where similar laws are already in practice show a spike in divorce rates only in the short term. Importantly, the new law also proposes a six-month cooling off period from the initial petition for divorce. While this gives both parties time to reflect it may also make it more difficult to resolve other matters such as finances and custody of children and exact details of how the cooling off period will work in practice are awaited.
Overall, the moves by Government to move legislation on after 50 years to better reflect the type of society we now live in should be welcomed. The introduction of a simplified no-fault divorce system should help reduce tensions in divorces and will certainly help take some of the emotion out of what is a highly stressful time for both parties.