Divorce Bill promises new dawn for resolving matrimonial disputes

We reported back in February that the justice secretary, David Gauke, had confirmed that he would bring in legislation enacting no-fault divorce. The legislation was introduced into the House of Commons, in the form of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, last Thursday.

The Bill will:

• Replace the current requirement to evidence either a conduct (i.e. adultery or ‘unreasonable behaviour’) or separation ‘fact’ as proof of the breakdown of the marriage 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 broken down.

• Introduce a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a ‘conditional order’ (which will replace the present ‘decree nisi’) may be made, allowing greater opportunity for reflection and, where couples cannot reconcile and divorce is inevitable, agreeing practical arrangements for the future. (The divorce cannot be finalised until six weeks have elapsed after the date of the conditional order.)

Mr Gauke said:

“Marriage will always be a vitally important institution in society, but when a relationship breaks down it cannot be right that the law adds fuel to the fire by incentivising couples to blame each other.

“By removing the unnecessary mudslinging the current process can needlessly rake up, we’ll make sure the law plays its part in allowing couples to move on as amicably and constructively as possible.

“I’m proud to introduce this important legislation which will make a genuine difference to many children and families.”

And Margaret Heathcote, Chair of Resolution, the association of family lawyers, commented:

“We’re delighted that the government is introducing legislation which will help reduce conflict between divorcing couples.

“Every day, our members are helping people through separation, taking a constructive, non-confrontational approach in line with our Code of Practice. However, because of our outdated divorce laws, they’ve been working effectively with one arm tied behind their backs.

“These proposals have the support of the public, politicians, and professionals. We therefore call on MPs and members of the House of Lords to pass this Bill without unnecessary delay, and end the blame game for divorcing couples as soon as possible.”

Family Law Cafe are also delighted that the Bill has been introduced, and hope that it will be quickly passed, so that all matrimonial disputes can be resolved without the necessity for attributing blame for the breakdown of the marriage, thereby increasing the chances of the parties resolving matters amicably.

MPs will next consider the Bill at its Second Reading, the date for which has not yet been announced.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image of David Gauke: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons