Road to end blame game divorces’ starts

Legislation to stop divorcing couples blaming each other for the breakdown of their marriage has begun its passage through Parliament.

In one of the biggest shake-ups of divorce laws for 50 years, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill is currently being heard by Parliament – in a week often described by lawyers as the most popular time of the year for people enquiring about divorce.

Current law requires people seeking divorce to give evidence of one, or more, of five facts to establish the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage; three are based on fault and two are based instead on a period of separation.

The five facts are: ‘unreasonable behaviour’, adultery, desertion, 2 years’ separation (if the other spouse consents to the divorce) and 5 years’ separation (otherwise).

The new law is aimed to ease the impact of unnecessary conflict on couples and children and reduce family conflict, and after first being introduced in June 2019 after a public consultation, is being brought before Parliament again following the General Election.

Lindsey Canning, head of Family Law at Wake Smith Solicitors, said: “At the moment, one spouse makes accusations about the other’s conduct, such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery. The alternative is to face years of separation before a divorce is granted, even if a couple has made a mutual decision to separate.

“The new law hopes to remove this blame game and allow one spouse, or the couple jointly, to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown. It will also stop one partner contesting a divorce if the other wants one.

“The Bill focuses on creating amicable separations where divorcing couples do not have to make unnecessary allegations against one another and hopes to strip away much of the antagonism this has created. It will help reduce confrontation and its damaging effect on children in particular.”

According to the Department of Justice, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will specifically:

  • Replace the current requirement to evidence either a conduct or separation ‘fact’ with the provision of a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (couples can opt to make this a joint statement).
  • Remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce, as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
  • Introduce a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a conditional order of divorce may be made, allowing greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible and divorce is inevitable.

For further information on divorce proceedings contact Lindsey Canning at lindsey.canning@wake-smith.com

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