The government this week has announced proposed changes to divorce laws which will allow couples to divorce without blaming the other party, in a move which will hopefully allow for more amicable separations. This will change laws that have been in existence for 50 years and is a change that family law professionals and experts have been campaigning for years to be introduced.
Under current law, the person starting the divorce has to rely of one of five grounds to prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. For couples who have been separated for less than 2 years, the only grounds are adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
However, as is often the case, the couple have simply drifted apart and there is no wish to blame their spouse for the breakdown. Having to do so can often introduce conflict into what would otherwise be an amicable separation. As it is only the person starting the divorce (the Petitioner) who has the chance to make allegations against the other party, this can leave the Respondent spouse feeling aggrieved and it can create animosity. This can have a negative effect on the parties’ who may still need to be in contact with each other for a number of years if they have children. It can also cause difficulty for the couple when trying to sort out their finances because they are angered by the other party’s allegations.
Therefore rather than making divorce “easier” as some may fear, the hope is that it will make divorce more amicable.
The changes will remove the ability of one spouse to defend the divorce. Couples will have to wait for a period of 6 months post-separation before finalising the divorce – from divorce petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute). It will also create the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process