The planned reform to the divorce process in England and Wales to introduce a way to get divorced without blaming the other party has been halted due to the prorogation of Parliament. This has left many professionals who work in this field and those who have campaigned for change, disappointed.
Currently, if a married couple decide mutually that the relationship has irretrievably broken down and neither party has committed adultery and they wish to be divorced, they are left with two initial grounds for divorce.
The first is to wait two years when they can issue a petition based on two years of separation and consent of both parties. The second current route available would be for one party to demonstrate in the petition that the other person has acted so unreasonably that they cannot reasonably be expected to live with that person any longer. This usually involves listing examples of the Respondent’s shortcomings.
Divorce is often a very difficult and painful time for families even when the decision to divorce is reached mutually. This process encourages conflict between divorcing couples as one party has to blame the other if they do not want to wait two years before getting divorced.
The current process is often criticized as it can be damaging to divorcing couples with children. Hostility between parents is harmful to children and can cause long term social, emotional and mental health problems. Increasing animosity between couples can also make it harder for them to come to an agreement amicably in regard to how the money accrued during the marriage is to be split. Hopefully, a no fault option for divorce could help parties settle out of court at mediation saving money and court time.
Many believe that the introduction of a no fault divorce is long overdue and hope that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill is looked at by Parliament again as soon as is possible. A YouGov poll that questioned 4199 adult s in April 2019 found that 73% of the general public supported the changes being proposed.
The new proposals introduce a statement of irretrievable breakdown in the divorce petition which does not involve assigning blame to one person. Couples will also be able to jointly apply for a divorce if they wish rather than it having to be ‘Petitioner versus Respondent’, as is the case currently.
The proposals also set out an end of one party being able to defend divorce proceedings. This may sound controversial. However, why should one party be forced to remain in a marriage when it is clearly over? Lastly, there would be 20 weeks from the petition stage to decree nisi and then a further six weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute, the final decree of divorce. Therefore, under these reforms there would still be ample time for both parties to reflect on whether divorce is the right option before it being finalized.
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This article was written by Yanoulla Kakoulli, Associate in the Family Law Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of September 2019.