Last night, the House of Commons overwhelmingly supported the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill at its final stages in Parliament.
Under the new law, which now just requires approval of an amendment and Royal Assent, spouses will be able to apply for a divorce on the basis that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, without having to blame the other. They must wait a total of six months from the date of the application before the divorce can be made final. They will also have the option of making a joint application for divorce together.
Currently if they wish to divorce within two years of their separation, they would have to apply on the basis of the adultery or behaviour of the other spouse. Not everyone can wait two years – for example, they may need to resolve financial arrangements with certainty or could be in an abusive marriage - and if one spouse opposes the divorce, the other may be stuck in an unhappy marriage for five years following their separation before they can even start divorce proceedings.
This situation frequently leads to unnecessary conflict from the outset as one spouse has to blame the other and often trawl back through painful memories and topics of dispute within the marriage. This is not the best starting point for an amicable resolution of the finances and arrangements for the children.
Family lawyers have been calling for a change to existing fault-based laws, which date from 1973, for many years. The new law is not intended to make divorce “easier” but kinder to families where the marriage has sadly broken down. We believe that removing the need to blame someone when applying for a divorce will be much better for the couple and also for any children who are likely to be affected by additional conflict between their parents.
Resolution, an association of family law professionals committed to resolving family issues in a non-confrontational way, has led a campaign calling for change. During the last few years, solicitors from this firm’s family team have spoken to their MPs and attended Parliament together with other Resolution members to lobby MPs.
Robert Buckland, the Secretary of State for Justice, has indicated that the Bill is likely to be implemented in the autumn of 2021 so couples will still have a little while to wait before they can apply under the new law but those separating now should be able to apply under the new law next year instead of having to wait two years or apportion blame in the meantime.
This is likely to have a significant impact on couples wishing to divorce in the future by reducing unnecessary pain at the outset of the process and allowing them to focus instead on sorting out the practical arrangements for the family and maintaining amicable relations so far as possible without a background of blame within the divorce.
"Our members have been campaigning for change for years, in Westminster and in towns and cities across the country where they work. They’re all committed to reducing conflict between separating couples, but our outdated divorce laws have meant they’ve been working with one hand tied behind their back." - Margaret Heathcote, National Chair of Resolution