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Is divorce reform around the corner? An update

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On 15th September 2018 the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, announced proposals to change the procedure for obtaining a divorce for separated couples and introduce a ‘no-fault divorce’.

The prospect of divorce reform was considered recently by Family Solicitor, Louise Rhys-Thomas, following the decision in the case of Owens v Owens and the tabling of Baroness Butler-Sloss’ private members bill, Divorce (etc.) Law Reform Bill see more here.

This long-awaited announcement has been widely welcomed by the legal community, family groups and various commentators. 

The proposals are set out in a government consultation entitled Reducing Family Conflict, reform of the legal requirements for divorce that is open until 10th December 2018 and can be found here.

Proposals detailed in the consultation include:

  • retaining the sole ground for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage;
  • removing the requirement to either provide evidence of the other spouse’s conduct (adultery or unreasonable behaviour) or endure a period of living apart (two years’ separation with consent, five years separation or two years’ desertion);
  • introducing a new notification process where one, or possibly both parties, can notify the Court of the intention to divorce;
  • removing the opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce application.

The consultation also seeks views on the minimum timeframe between the interim decree of divorce (Decree Nisi) and final decree of divorce (Decree Absolute), allowing couples time to reflect on the decision to divorce. At present, the minimum period between Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute is six weeks and one day. In practice, this is often a longer period of time for a number of reasons, including the desirability of agreeing financial settlement before the divorce is made final.

If the proposals were adopted, this would replace the need to rely on one of five facts required under the current system to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This would effectively provide a true ‘no-fault divorce’ regime. It is said that adultery and unreasonable behaviour petitions are often only brought because there is currently a requirement to wait two years for a ‘no blame’ option and this results in unnecessary conflict for the separated couple and their children. It will be interesting to see if the proposals receive strong opposition.

It is one of the Government’s cited aims to reduce conflict and shift the focus from blame to supporting separated couples better, enabling them to focus on making arrangements for their own futures and for their children’s, consistent with the approach taken in other areas of family law.

Unquestionably, having to apportion blame or waiting for a period of separation does not help when trying to negotiate a financial settlement or arrangements for the children. At Hughes Paddison, our specialist lawyers will work with you to understand your particular needs and circumstances, bringing a pragmatic and cost effective approach to the changes in your relationship. 

If you require assistance in relation to issuing divorce proceedings, please feel free to contact a member of our Family Law Department on 01242 574244 and we will be happy to meet you and discuss your situation.





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