You have probably seen in the news that the divorce law is to be changing. Well, it will change…. But not yet and maybe not for a while yet as the statute has to be presented to parliament. We are told by the Ministry of Justice that ‘The new legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows’.
To be fair, Parliament is a little busy with one or two other things at the moment.
Proposals for changes to the law include:
• keeping the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce – in other words, you have to be sure your marriage is beyond repair
• replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown – at the moment, the unappealing choice is waiting for two years of separation to do it by agreement or pointing the finger and blaming if you want to do it sooner with the last great choice of waiting to be separated for 5 years. There is a more technical ground of desertion – hardly ever used. I have had one petition on that basis in over 23 years as a solicitor.
• retaining the two-stage legal process currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute – you are not divorce on the decree nisi but it does ‘unlock’ the financial track to allow for financial orders to be made.
• creating the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process – this is a good idea where both parties usually now to speak about who will start the divorce and what will be said.
• removing the ability to contest a divorce – again, I think this is a good idea. You can’t force someone to remain married to another person when they do not want to be
• introducing a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute) – this is about what it is taking at the moment to get divorced. And so it goes. Courts will retain the power to speed up the process where appropriate.
I have seen some of the comments about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I do not think it will mean a ‘quickie divorce’ or that it makes it ‘too easy’ to divorce. I do not think it will put people off marrying. By the time most people come to see me, they have done the hard decision making and gone through the tough bit of realising and saying to their spouse that they think the marriage is over. By the time most people get to me, they just want to get on with sorting everything out.
I see this as a really good thing for families, to allow them to move on with dignity and without having to press on painful wounds to get where they need to go. Family law should support and assist a family not force them into miserable situations when there is an alternative way of doing things.
As part of the online testing group for divorce online for solicitors to be able to use, I can see that this change in law will make the whole process more streamlined. I think this is good news for families who are separating, divorcing and want to be amicable about it.
If you need help with divorce and sorting out the finances, contact me.