New laws to spare divorcing couples having to apportion blame for the breakdown of their marriage took a step closer, as a Bill seeking to reduce family conflict has now gained Royal Assent.
Aaron Keene, Partner & Head of Family Law at Wilkes said: “The institution of marriage will always be upheld, but when divorce cannot be avoided the law should not exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing”.
Currently, one spouse has to make accusations about the other’s conduct, such as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or adultery, or otherwise face years of separation before a divorce can be granted – regardless of whether a couple has made a mutual decision to separate.
The new laws will instead allow a spouse, or a couple, to apply for divorce by making a statement of irretrievable breakdown. This aims to end the needless “blame game” between couples and parents.
Crucially, a new and extended minimum timeframe of six months from the initial application stage to the granting of a divorce will also be created. This will offer couples the time to reflect and turn back, or where reconciliation is not possible agree important arrangements for the future – such as how best to look after their children.
The Bill was first introduced in June 2019 after a public consultation and was brought before parliament again following the General Election. It passed its final stage on 17 June, with cross-party backing as well as support amongst family law practitioners.
Specifically, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act will:
- Replace the current requirement to evidence either a conduct or separation ‘fact’ with the provision of a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (for the first time, couples can opt to make this a joint statement).
- Remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce, as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
- Introduces a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a conditional order of divorce may be made, allowing greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible and divorce is inevitable.
The changes will not come into effect until later next year to allow careful implementation of the necessary changes to court, online and paper processes.