Divorce Reform Bill Starts its Journey through Parliament.
Divorce Reform Bill Starts its Journey through Parliament
The legislation needed to simplify divorce procedure has passed the first stage of its journey through Parliament without incident.
The proposed Act of Parliament called ‘The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill’ is widely recognised as a major improvement on the present law. It has been welcomed by members of my branch of the profession, including Margaret Heathcote, the Chair of Resolution, who speaks on behalf of the majority of family lawyers.
Under the new scheme one party simply asserts that the marriage has irretrievably broken down - there is no requirement to support that by allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour etc, and there is no scope to defend the divorce petition.
It also introduces the possibility that the parties to the marriage can make a joint application for a divorce. I think that that will be well received. Most couples, in reality, share the wish to be divorced, and it sometimes seems uncomfortable that, even where they are divorcing by agreement, after living apart for two years, one of them still has to be the “petitioner” and the other the “respondent”.
Some people are concerned that this simplification of the process will lead to more divorces. I understand their concern about the risk of undermining the institution of marriage. As I discussed in a previous blog, the number of people getting married has been falling steadily for years, and the average age at which people get married is going up. Even so marriage remains a popular choice for people entering a committed relationship, and it has an important place in society. But I think it is important to remember that divorce does not cause marriage breakdown – it is the other way round.
The new scheme retains some important safeguards. It will still not be possible to present a divorce petition in the first year of marriage, and it will take at least 26 weeks from starting the process to to the final dissolution of the marriage. There is no specific rule about that under the current scheme, but most divorces, in practice, take around six months, so that will not be a significant change.
The Bill takes the opportunity to “update” some of the terminology used in divorce – the petition, decree nisi and decree absolute, are replaced by applications, conditional decrees and final decrees. This is not the first time this has been tried, and last time most people, including the general public as well as lawyers, continued to use the familiar terms which seem to have become settled in the English language. People seem to use the language they feel comfortable with, but perhaps we are now already for a change?
The Bill still has several stages to go through Parliament before it becomes law. These are difficult times, and I suspect the real test will be whether Parliament can find sufficient time to deal with it, and whether this Parliament itself gets dissolved before the bill has completed its journey.
John Pratley is an expert divorce lawyer, who has more than 25 years experience advising clients purely about divorce and related family law issues, such as the financial consequences of separating and divorcing. After establishing the first niche family law practice in Bristol, and going on to senior management roles in a national firm, John set up Apple Tree Family Law in 2018. Apple tree family Law solicitors specialise in advice about divorce and financial issues.
We are based in Bristol and Exeter, but we have clients all over the UK and further afield. We offer, simply, clear and accurate advice about divorce and family law issues, and the very best client service, for a clear and reasonable price.