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Reform of the divorce process

Apr 18, 2019

It’s been a momentous month for Family Law.

The Government has announced that it will be bringing in legislation that will enable a couple to divorce without having to cast blame for the breakdown of their relationship.

Why is this such a significant move? The divorce process that has been in place for the last fifty years requires proof of fault - adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour - for the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. That’s if a couple want to get the divorce process in motion without waiting two years (where both parties agree to divorce) or five years (where they don’t).

Unreasonable behaviour is by far the most commonly relied on reason. As Family lawyers, we see the acrimony that can develop, or increase, when accusations of behaviour inconsistent with that of a loving relationship start to be made in formal setting. One of the challenging issues in all of this can be ensuring that any alleged unreasonable behaviour is ‘sufficiently unreasonable’ so as to clear the legal hurdle that stands between a couple and a divorce. In some cases, people feel forced to dredge up examples of behaviour that has long since been dealt with or forgotten about. Others who simply want to divorce and move on because their marriage has run its course – with neither party to blame – scrabble around to pinpoint some past behaviour that they think might do the trick. 

Each of those scenarios can make a difficult situation worse for couples and for their children. As Family lawyers, we work hard to ensure that children’s best interests are prioritised and that our clients get the best possible, least stressful, divorce they can. However, those principles have often been at odds with a fault-based system.

We’re hopeful that the new law will go a significant way towards removing the additional pressures and bad feeling generated by having to lay blame for a failed marriage. Parties will simply have to state that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. They will be able to jointly apply for divorce. There will also be a minimum period of six months imposed, during which time the couple must make sure that they definitely want to divorce.

It’s now a case of waiting for Parliament to find time to introduce the new legislation. Watch this space.

For advice on any aspect of divorce, contact one of our Family Law solicitors on 01264 353411 or family@bsandi.co.uk.


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