Under the law as it currently stands, unless a couple have been separated for two years or more, they can only divorce on the basis of one of the alleging unreasonable behaviour or adultery against the other.
The proposed reforms, however, would see couples only having to say that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, with no further detail required.
It is also proposed that there should be no right for a respondent (the party against whom the divorce petition is filed) to defend and potentially block a divorce. This is no doubt partly in response to the general unease that followed the Supreme Court’s rejection of Tini Owen’s appeal for divorce last year. She had petitioned for divorce on the basis of unreasonable behaviour on the part of her husband, but he then decided to defend the divorce on the grounds that he thought the marriage could be saved, and that he had not behaved unreasonably. The Supreme Court’s decision meant that Ms Owens will have to remain married until 2020 when she will finally be able to divorce on the basis of five year’s separation.
The proposed reforms will, however, include a minimum timeframe of six months from a petition for divorce through to the finalising of a divorce – this to allow a period of reflection should the parties change their mind and decide that the marriage can be saved.
There is also a proposal that married couples should be able to make joint applications for a divorce if they both accept that the marriage is over.
These proposed reforms are overdue, and we at Moore & Tibbits Solicitors have long called for such changes. They will represent a big change in the system, but a necessary one. In family law generally the onus is quite rightly on encouraging people to compromise and resolve matters in an amicable way. Divorce law as it currently stands, however, is often a recipe for animosity, confrontation and upset.
A final word of warning: David Gauke, Secretary of State for Justice, has indicated that the new law will be introduced as soon as possible ‘when parliamentary time allows’. Accordingly, given the current turmoil in British politics, there is still some uncertainty around exactly when these reforms will be introduced into law.
If you would like advice or guidance on any of the above, our specialist Family Law Team are here to help. Just email CarlineG@moore-tibbits.co.uk or call 01926 491181.
Article by: Karol Kaliczak