No fault divorce given the green light
Elise Alma, Partner and Head of the Family team at Coodes Solicitors, welcomes the introduction of a no fault divorce.
A bill that will overhaul the divorce process has today been given the green light in the House of Commons. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will mean that couples no longer need to assign blame in order to be granted a divorce or to end a civil partnership.
The Family team at Coodes welcomes this development, which is the result of a 30-year campaign, spearheaded by Resolution.
What difference will the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill make?
Currently, anyone who wants to divorce or dissolve a civil partnership has to prove that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. This means either being separated for a minimum of two years or starting proceedings on the basis of adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
‘Unreasonable behaviour’ is the most commonly cited ground for divorce and can cover all manner of issues, ranging from lack of physical affection and difficult behaviours to financial disagreements. The current law forces people into the uncomfortable position of finding these faults and then discussing intimate details of their relationship with a lawyer.
When it is put in place, the bill will allow a couple to jointly apply for a divorce, rather than one spouse having to divorce the other. This will make the divorce process far less difficult for many of our clients. Having to assign blame adds hostility to proceedings and, in many cases, couples have simply drifted apart and want an amicable split. Often, our clients have already been separated for several months and having to revisit old differences in order to secure their divorce is painful and unnecessarily acrimonious.
Will this make it easier to get divorced?
By removing the need for blame, I believe that the bill will make the divorce process less unnecessarily stressful.
However, divorce will continue to be a difficult and complex experience for all sorts of reasons. Signing the divorce papers is only one part of the process and couples will still need to work through the division of finances and other assets just as they always have. It will therefore continue to be vital to get the best possible legal advice.
When will a no fault divorce be introduced?
The bill will not result in an immediate change to the current divorce laws. It will first need to receive royal assent, before changes are made to some of the divorce procedures and documents. The aim is now for the reforms to be put in place by Autumn 2021.
There are still elements of the bill that are being discussed. In particular, the Law Society has raised concerns about the 26-week notice period in the bill, which would replace the current two-year separation period. The Law Society argues that this notice period should start when a divorce application is received, rather than the start of proceedings, to allow for more time for reflection and consideration.
Research has shown that there is growing public support for no fault divorce. I welcome this as a very positive step forward towards couples being able to divorce without having to make allegations that are likely to cause pain and future conflict.