LEGAL EASE: The end of the divorce blame game?
Divorces and dissolution of civil partnerships can be acrimonious, but the Government hope to change that by reforming divorce law.
Their proposed changes include removing the need to blame one spouse or civil partner for the marriage breakdown, removing the ability to defend or prevent a divorce, introducing a minimum six-month period from issuing proceedings to concluding them.
Divorce procedure is governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, of which s1(1) currently requires a petitioning spouse to show their marriage has irretrievably broken down by proving one of five reasons; adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two year’s separation (with their spouse’s consent), desertion after two years, and five year’s separation (without their spouses’ consent).
This reason confirms why a marriage has broken down and so, in an effort to keep things amicable, spouses have sometimes tried to avoid blame and relied on separation. This requires couples to be separated for 2 or 5 years however, which isn’t always practical or desirable.
If a separation divorce isn’t appropriate, a petition must be based on fault, but if adultery is not relevant, unreasonable behaviour only can be relied upon. A spouse must then provide sufficient reasons why their spouse’s unreasonable behaviour means they cannot be reasonably expected to live with them. These detailed paragraphs often upset the respondent spouse and create avoidable arguments and acrimony at a time when important arrangements need to be made for the future, particularly involving children and finances.
The Government now recognises that marriages end for a variety of reasons, which cannot be limited to one fact. The new system will simply require a spouse to provide a statement that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. If the divorce process can begin without blame, couples should be better placed to make positive, well-informed decisions and help preserve family relationships.
Whilst no implementation date has been announced, if you are considering divorce now, or in the future, and would like further information about your options, please contact our Family Lawyer and Partner, Kimberley Pender on 01406 422651.