No-fault divorce is likely to be introduced, but a fair deal on asset sharing means mediation must remain a priority.
The news that no-fault divorce is likely to become law has been welcomed, but while the legislation waits for time to be found in the parliamentary calendar, families must continue to deal with one party being ‘blamed’ for the breakup.
And with the parliamentary calendar full of another divorce – the UK’s departure from the UK – no date has been given yet for debating the proposed changes.
Current divorce law
Grounds for divorces under the existing Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 require an applicant to prove their partner is at fault through one of the following grounds:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Desertion for 2 years
- Lived apart for 2 years or more (where both parties agree to the divorce)
- Lived apart for 5 years or more (even if contested by one party)
Official statistics show that almost half of the divorce petitions between 2016 and 2018 cited behaviour as the reason for ending the marriage, rather than the required period of separation. However, while signalling the likely shift to a mutual agreement, the Ministry of Justice announcement sets out plans for a minimum six-month timeframe from making a petition until final divorce, so that couples have time for reflection before securing a divorce.
Proposed divorce law changes
The proposed changes include:
- The irretrievable breakdown of a marriage to be the sole ground
- The option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process
- Removing the ability to contest a divorce
- Continuing to have a two-stage legal process, known currently as the decree nisi and decree absolute
- Introducing a minimum timeframe of six months from the date of making the petition until the final divorce. With 20 weeks from petition to decree nisi and 6 weeks between decree nisi and decree absolute
Professionals have welcomed the potential change in the law, saying that it will help couples to focus on non-combative negotiations, when it comes to agreeing on family arrangements, for example regarding children, or dividing up assets when the marriage ends.
Sharing assets – agreeing to a fair deal
Our Family Law expert, Mike Spencer says, “In my experience, the blame game can further inflame relations that are already strained by a breakdown, so this move is certainly one to be welcomed, and hopefully will signal a general shift towards a more conciliatory approach to divorce in the future, as there will always be need for negotiations between couples.”
“We are dealing with increasingly complex financial and family arrangements, as many couples undertake a second and subsequent marriages, often with children from previous relationships. It means that even in the most amicable of divorces, it’s to be expected that each side will wish to secure the fairest outcome in terms of asset sharing for themselves and their children. Mutual agreement rather than disagreement is the outcome we always strive to achieve.”
Advice for separating couples
Although proposed plans outline a less hostile divorce process, seeking professional legal advice is important for couples going through a separation. This will ensure fair outcomes are reached with regards to sharing assets.
Posted on April 12, 2019