No Fault Divorce

For some time now the Government has attempted, most recently with strong cross party support, to bring about the first substantive change to the law relating to divorce for 50 years. Despite support from the public, family law practitioners and the judiciary, for various reasons, it has not been possible until now.

On 8th June 2020 the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons. During the debate many ministers spoke about the damage the current law can cause to separating families and at least five were able to draw upon their own personal experience of the divorce process, including as an individual involved in the process and as a child of divorced parents. The experiences they shared were reflective of the concerns shared by clients frequently; those who wish to maintain a co-parenting relationship or even a friendship with their spouse post separation do not want to have to make allegations of fault or wait in limbo for the relevant period of separation to pass.

Those who opposed the legislation cited concerns that the new law would make the divorce process easier and encourage couples to separate more quickly; it would erode the sanctity of marriage. However, those in support of the law were clear; the Bill will allow those involved in the divorce process to proceed without apportioning blame, reduce conflict and offer protection to those who are victims of domestic abuse. As highlighted during the Parliamentary debate, those that take the decision to divorce do not do so lightly. The purpose of the Bill is to make the legal steps to dissolve a marriage or civil partnership less acrimonious.

Ministers voted overwhelmingly in support of the Bill (231 in favour, 16 against). Without dwelling on the law making process, this now paves the way for “no fault” divorce. The Bill will replace the current law which requires those wishing to divorce to make allegations of “fault” or wait for either two or five years before they divorce. Defended divorces are rare, as a result the allegations of fault are rarely considered in any detail by the Court. In the significant majority of cases the allegations of fault contained in the divorce petition have no impact upon the arrangements for the children or the division of matrimonial assets. The final Decree currently refers only to the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage with no reference to the allegations of fault contained in the divorce petition.

Allegations of fault serve no purpose but to increase conflict and erode any remaining goodwill between the separating couple and it is for that reason so many will see the support of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill as a positive step for the future.

Whether the Bill passes through the remaining stages of becoming law before the end of 2020 remains to be seen. However, given the level of support for change there can be no doubt that “no fault” divorce is closer than it has ever been before.

Should I delay divorce proceedings whilst I wait for the new law to come into effect?

The new “no fault” law will undoubtedly make divorce more amicable, it will reduce animosity and help with arrangements for finances and children.  However, as yet, nothing is certain as we do not know when the Bill will become law.  So the answer is, probably not, unless circumstances dictate that this would be by far the best route and you are prepared to be patient and wait.

It is a difficult time for everyone whilst we try to cope with the effects of COVID-19 and imagine a life after the pandemic but it is especially difficult for separating couples.

KBL’s family law team have continued to work remotely throughout the pandemic and offer a free, no obligation telephone appointment to discuss the first steps.  If you would like to talk to us about separation, divorce, maintenance, arrangements for children  please call Victoria Melling vmelling@kbl.co.uk or Ceri Thomas cthomas@kbl.co.uk on 01204 527777 or 01254 268790.

We will listen, advise and remain by your side until you have reached a final settlement, ready to rebuild your life.

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