25th October 2019

Campaigners who have long championed reform of our current outdated divorce laws faced disappointment when the proposed new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was dropped due to the prorogation of Parliament on 9th September this year.  Generally all Bills in progress when Parliament is suspended cannot be carried over into the next session and as such must be abandoned or re-introduced from scratch when Parliament commences.

To obtain a divorce at present, the law requires couples to have lived apart for at least two years if both are in agreement, five years if only one spouse wishes to divorce or desertion.  Immediate grounds for divorce are adultery or based on the unreasonable behaviour of one party, requiring blame to be apportioned for the breakdown of a marriage.  It is little wonder that with over 100,000 divorces in England and Wales each year, unreasonable behaviour is the most common factor used in both opposite and same sex divorces when the alternative is to be legally bound to a spouse you no longer love for years.

As Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law society of England and Wales points out, the current system “exacerbates tensions” between couples and Resolution (the national organisation of family lawyers), who for years have campaigned for a change in the law believe that “Divorce is difficult enough. The legal requirement to assign blame makes it harder for couples to reach an amicable agreement” expressing they are “particularly concerned about the impact conflict and confrontation between separating parents has on their children”.

The proposed ‘No Fault’ Divorce Bill, which had overwhelming support across the political divide along with family justice professionals and the general public, would simply require provision of a statement of irretrievable breakdown without the need to apportion blame and would also provide for the option of a joint application.

Additional proposals were to:
• Remove the opportunity to contest, (although there would be some legal grounds for challenging an application);
• Introduce a minimum timeframe of six months, from petition stage to Decree Absolute; in exceptional circumstances, the court could allow a shorter period;
• Retain the two-stage decree process – it would still be necessary to apply separately for the Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute;
• Retain the bar on divorce and dissolution applications in the first year;
• Modernise the language used within the divorce process.

Campaigners and supporters of the ‘No Fault’ Divorce Bill were recently given fresh hope however, with news that the Bill is to be re-introduced after being mentioned in the Queen’s Speech (which outlines the plans for the Parliamentary year).  Although the Bill will need to go through the full process again to pass the legislation and no specifics have been announced, the fact that the Bill is back on the agenda, promising to ‘minimise the impact of divorce, particularly on children’ is encouraging.

With widespread support the Bill will hopefully make swift progress through Parliament, allowing couples to part with dignity and respect, especially important where children are involved, enabling effective, constructive co-parenting.

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