No-fault divorce on the horizon at last

No-fault divorce on the horizon at last

The Ministry of Justice has announced that the Government has reintroduced the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which will bring in a system of no-fault divorce, to Parliament. The Bill was first introduced in June 2019, but was lost due to the General Election.

If, as expected, the Bill is passed it will not be the first time that Parliament has passed an Act bringing in no-fault divorce. An Act that did that was passed back in 1996. However, the no-fault divorce provisions in that Act were considered by some to be unworkable, and never became law.

 

Statement of irretrievable breakdown no-fault divorce image

The new Bill will retain the one ground for divorce as at present – that the marriage has broken down irretrievably – but will do away with the need to prove irretrievable breakdown. Accordingly, it will no longer be necessary to show that the other party has committed adultery, that they have behaved unreasonably, or that the parties have lived separately for a certain period of time.

Instead, it will simply be necessary for one or both of the parties to file with the court a statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

If the statement is filed by only one party, the other party will not be allowed to contest the divorce. Defended divorces will therefore become a thing of the past.

As drafted, the Bill provides that there must normally be a 20-week ‘period of reflection’ after the start of the proceedings, before the party or parties that filed the statement can apply for the divorce to continue.

The court will then make a conditional divorce order, equivalent to the present decree nisi. As now, it will not usually be possible to apply for the final divorce order (equivalent to the present decree absolute) until six weeks has elapsed after the making of the conditional order.

Commenting upon the Bill Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP said:

“The institution of marriage will always be vitally important, but we must never allow a situation where our laws exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing.

“Our reforms will stop divorcing couples having to make unnecessary allegations against one another and instead help them focus on separating amicably.

“By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”

The Bill has been generally welcomed by family lawyers and those working in or around the family justice system.

 

When will it become law?boy with family cutouts

It is not yet clear when the Bill is likely to be passed and, if it is, when its provisions will come into effect. The Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords on the 7th of January, and its second reading, when all aspects of the Bill will be debated, is yet to be scheduled. After that the Bill will have to go through committee and report stages, before passing through the House of Commons, and finally receiving Royal Assent.

The Bill is supported not just by the Government but also by the other main parties. It is therefore expected to pass. However, much work remains to be done, including the making of the necessary rules to give effect to the new law, and it seems unlikely that it will come into effect until late this year, at the earliest.

The Bill will also make similar changes to the law governing the dissolution of civil partnerships.

It should be noted, however, that the Bill will not alter the way in which financial arrangements between the parties on divorce/dissolution of civil partnership are dealt with.

You can follow the progress of the Bill here.