The biggest change to divorce laws in half a century looks set to take effect. It’s a move welcomed by those of us who have long campaigned for a fairer, more sensible process.
The Government has confirmed that it will introduce new legislation to end the so-called ‘blame game’; a requirement that one party should be shown to be at fault in order for a divorce process to begin straightaway. Currently, before a couple can divorce, they must show that they have lived separately for two or five years (two where the divorce is not contested; five where it is), or that there has been adultery, desertion or, most commonly, unreasonable behaviour in the marriage (all three of which involve blame).
It is widely recognised that attributing fault only increases bad feeling, which adds to the stresses of divorce and can have a seriously damaging effect on ongoing relations and on children.
So, how will the new system tackle that? The bottom line is that divorce will always need to be carefully managed. Even though lawyers like us work hard to minimise conflict, there will almost certainly be disagreements, acrimony, even, as the difficult job of untying a relationship runs its course. But, in getting rid of the requirement for fault or blame, the new divorce regime will reduce the pressures on people who simply want to divorce. A husband and wife will have the option of saying: ‘This isn’t working. It’s not my fault. It’s not yours. Let’s go our separate ways.’ It’s a hugely different proposition to the current system that would force one of them to take responsibility for the marriage’s irretrievable breakdown (unless they’re prepared to wait two or five years before starting the divorce process; which people rarely are).
The new system will simply require the parties who want to divorce immediately to state that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. They could jointly apply for divorce, although it will still be possible for one party to initiate it and, where that happens, the other will not be able to contest it. The law will also introduce a six-month minimum timeframe for divorce, which will give the couple time to make sure they’re doing the right thing.
This monumental shake-up of the divorce regime is expected to bring hugely positive results for divorcing couples, children, and wider families. As a family law solicitor, I see the fallout of acrimonious, blame-laden divorces on a regular basis. Sadly, people who cannot stomach a two or five-year wait, or who simply want to get on with their new life, have been forced into a corner. They have had to make accusations that they would rather not have made; reopen old wounds. They have had to blame and accept blame. It’s a situation that cried out for change, and it now stands to do exactly that; just as soon as Parliament finds time to get the legislation through (anticipated to be within the next 3 months).
For legal advice on any aspect of separation or divorce, contact Susi Gillespie on 020 7426 4915 or at firstname.lastname@example.org