Divorce laws demand proof that a marriage has broken down irretrievably and force spouses to evidence ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or years of separation, even in cases where a couple has made a mutual decision to part ways.

Under the current system, people seeking a divorce must give evidences to one of the following:
  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Two years separation (if the other spouse agrees to the divorce)
  • Five years separation (regardless of agreement)
  • Desertion

The Ministry of Justice has introduced measures allowing individuals to divorce regardless of agreement to do so. The reforms hope to reduce conflict within a family and protect children in divorce proceedings. The changes follow a public consultation and legislation is expected imminently. Ministers are acting to change the law after responses also revealed that the current system can work against any prospect of reconciliation, and can be damaging to children by undermining the relationship between parents after divorce.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said:

‘Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances’.

‘While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.’

So what are the proposed changes?

The consultation found support for change and the Ministry of Justice announced it will act on the outcome of the public consultation. Changes include:

  • Introducing a joint application for divorce, whilst keeping the option for one party to initiate the process
  • replace the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around unreasonable behaviour or separation with the requirement to provide a statement of irreconcilable differences
  • remove the ability to disagree with the divorce
  • the introduction of a timeframe from the position stage to the final divorce of just six months
  • keep in irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as a sole ground for the divorce
  • keep in the two-stage legal process – currently decree nisi (interim divorce) and decree absolute (final order from the court for divorce)

Starting a minimum timeframe at the start reflects consultation respondents’ views that couples ‘feel divorced’ when the court grants the provisional decree of divorce (the ‘decree nisi’). This will provide a meaningful period of reflection and the opportunity of ‘turning back’ for couples. Where divorce is unavoidable, it will enable couples to find agreement on practical matters for their future. The courts will retain the power to speed-up the process where appropriate.

These reforms keep what works well in existing divorce law and removes what stands in the way of resolving difficulties more amicably when a marriage has irretrievably broken down and needs a legal ending. The new legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as parliament allows the time.

The overall aim is to reduce family conflict by no longer requiring divorcing couples to ‘point the finger of blame’ at one another for the breakdown of the marriage.

If you would like to discuss any of the above, or you are having difficulties with your divorce, then call us on 01273 726951 and speak to one of the team. Alternatively, click the contact us section on our website.