What do the changes in legislation mean for divorcing couples?

Changes in legislation should make it easier for couples to divorce [Photo: Getty]
Changes in legislation should make it easier for couples to divorce [Photo: Getty]

New legislation has been introduced that could make it easier and less painful for couples when it comes to divorce.

Breaking up is hard to do, but until now the law surrounding divorcing couples has been making it that much harder, by effectively forcing couples into attributing blame for things not working out.

But changes in the law could make it a lot easier, and quicker for couples to go their separate ways.

The introduction of no-fault divorces will mean that couples who want to end their marriages will no longer have to attribute blame or wait for years for their divorce to be finalised.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in England and Wales stipulates that a couple must either allocate blame for the breakdown of the marriage, or – if both couples agree – wait two years after separation to divorce.

If there is an absence of consent or evidence of fault, applicants must wait until they have been living apart for a whopping five years!

But critics claim that the law fuels acrimony in those already going through a difficult situation and may also encourage false allegations.

Today, however, justice secretary David Gauke has confirmed that this area of divorce law will now be reformed.

It comes after an overwhelming response to a campaign, spearheaded by the Times.

The new legislation could come into play as early as May.

So what does the new law mean for divorcing couples?

“A no fault divorce will make a substantial difference for couples looking to divorce,” says Simon Fisher, Senior Associate at Gardner Leader law firm.

“Under the current law if you are separated for less than two years then the only option for a divorce is either one parties’ adultery or their unreasonable behaviour.

“Often this means that parties are forced to use a fault based ground to seek a divorce when the separation may have otherwise been reasonably amicable. In essence couples are forced into a form of “blame game” with often exaggerated grounds to satisfy the court.”

According to Natalie Sutherland, Family Lawyer of A City Law Firm there are other complications with the current divorce legislation as well.

“As the law stands now, if a marriage breaks down because one party has committed adultery then the petitioner can choose to petition based on that adultery but also has to consider whether to name the other woman/man and there could be issues if the spouse does not admit to the adultery,” she explains.

“With unreasonable behaviour, the petitioner has to cite a number of examples of that behaviour which might cause them distress to recount or which the respondent takes issue with and then decides to defend the divorce.”

Current divorce legislation means couples have to attribute blame for the break-up [Photo: Getty]
Current divorce legislation means couples have to attribute blame for the break-up [Photo: Getty]

Simon says that a no fault divorce will avoid the need for parties to use inflammatory grounds to seek a divorce, potentially simplifying the process and keeping costs down.

“By making it a more amicable process this could also help reach a resolution on potential financial or children matters without involving the courts in an already difficult time.

“The change will modernise the divorce process which should help protect the parties from unnecessary hostilities and a more conciliatory approach on resolving any related issues,” he adds.

Natalie agrees that the long-overdue change will make things easier for couples seeking to end their relationship officially.

“The process should become simpler, less stressful, removing any possible conflict and uncertainty which in turn decreases costs and allows the parties to move on without one party being ‘blamed’.

“If children are involved then removing this stigma can only be beneficial for the family as they move forward into their new dynamic.”

The new legislation comes as it was revealed that more than 400 people filed to divorce their spouses this year between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

The festive period can be an intensely stressful and reflective time, and for many this seems to be when they called it a day on their marriages.

Depressingly, a small number – 13 – of these divorce applications were submitted on Christmas Day itself, according to figures from the HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

The rise in more couples divorcing has lead to calls from a top divorce solicitor for schools to teach about marriage in their curriculum.

Baroness Fiona Shackleton of Belgravia is one of the UK’s most famous divorce lawyers – and she wants schools to teach students to view marriage as one of the most important decisions they make.

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