Can’t wait for a no fault divorce?

The Government has re-introduced the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which is intended to introduce a system of no-fault divorce. It had a second reading by MPs on Monday 8 June 2020 and with sufficient support across the parties, it will return to the House of Lords to consider an amendment before receiving Royal assent. UK divorce law is expected to see it’s biggest shake up in nearly 50 years.

Many separated couples have been waiting for these changes to save the acrimony that inevitably ensues with the requirement to rely upon a “fact” under our current divorce laws. This usually means making an accusation about the other spouse’s conduct and no matter how diplomatic parties try to be, the system is fault-based and requires evidence of guilt from one party.

If spouses really cannot bring themselves to place blame they have no alternative but to face two years of living apart in a ‘separation’ period before the marriage can be legally dissolved, even if the decision is mutual.

Worse still, if one spouse refuses to consent to the divorce then this period has to be a minimum of five years before they are considered eligible for divorce.

The new reforms will revolutionise divorce and separation with the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce. Instead of having to attribute blame for the breakdown of the relationship, a couple can mutually cite ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as the sole ground for wanting to divorce.

Spouses can apply jointly or as an individual. Either spouse will be able to provide a statement saying the relationship has broken down without having to provide evidence of bad behaviour. It also replaces the terms decree nisi and decree absolute with conditional order and final order. Petitioners will also become applicants.

Under the new proposals, there must be a minimum six-month period between the lodging of a petition to the divorce being made final.

This new legal concept will help avoid couples fighting over blame during a break-up. Allowing them instead to concentrate on achieving a financial “clean break” and deciding how best to share contact with their children following divorce. The government has also considered that it will have the added benefit of not allowing domestic abusers to trap a spouse in a marriage for five years, by contesting it.

Whilst it is anticipated the Bill will become law by the end of this year, is it worth waiting for before separated couples initiate divorce proceedings? The answer is probably not.  The Lord chancellor Robert Buckland told MPs that the bill’s reforms would not come into force on Royal assent ‘because time needs to be allowed for careful implementation’. After the bill is passed new forms will have to be prepared, and procedures sorted out. The earliest we can expect to see the implementation of a no-fault divorce is autumn 2021.