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A No Blame Divorce
- AuthorJennifer Allen
Today, as you will have seen in the news, the Government have announced there will be new legislation in divorce law. This new law will update the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in due course. It will mean that, in the future when the legislation comes into force, divorcing couples will no longer have to ‘blame’ each other for the breakdown of their marriage. It is hoped the new law will help reduce family conflict.
Ministers are acting following a public consultation with family justice professionals and those who have direct experience with divorce. The response from the consultation revealed that the current system can work against any prospect of reconciliation, and can be damaging to children by undermining the relationship between parents after divorce.
Today the Ministry of Justice have reported in their press release the findings of Justice Secretary, David Gauke. He has commented that not only does conflict leave a mark on the children of divorcing parents, it can lead to long term damage in their lives. He also commented that the institution of marriage remains - this does not act to conflict with the support for marriage but that the law is outdated as it stands. Calls for reform have been heard.
Currently, a divorcing couple must prove their marriage has irretrievably broken down. To do this they rely on the 5 facts currently available. These are: adultery, behaviour, desertion, 2 years’ separation (if the other spouse consents to the divorce) and 5 years’ separation (when consent is not required). The legal definitions of the facts can be found in section 1(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973
The proposed changes will introduce a new ‘no blame option’ although the law will retain ‘the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage’ as the sole ground for divorce. The proposal is to create the additional option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process.
Divorce will remain a two-stage legal process, currently referred to as Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute, however the proposal introduces a minimum timeframe of 6 months from Petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from Petition stage to Decree Nisi; 6 weeks from Decree Nisi to Decree Absolute).
Parallel changes will be made to the law governing the dissolution of a civil partnership which broadly mirrors the legal process for obtaining a divorce.
The law in dealing with a couple’s financial affairs on divorce/separation remains unchanged. Financial proceedings will remain a separate set of proceedings. The Court has wide discretion and powers under Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 to provide for the future financial needs of divorcing spouses.
Resolution, the national family justice body, of whom I am a member, has today announced that they welcome the proposed new law and removal of the need for a couple to assign blame.
The new legislation will now need to be prepared and introduced. This will take Parliamentary time. There is no date for when this will be completed by, although the announcement of the plans for new legislation to overhaul divorce law is a step in the right direction.
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