On 9 April 2019, the Justice Secretary announced plans to introduce new legislation which would enable parties to petition for a no-fault divorce.
Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, it has to be proved that a marriage has irretrievably broken down due to one party’s adultery, desertion for a period of 2 years or more or unreasonable behaviour. If none of those facts can be relied upon, a spouse must wait 2 years from separation before they can petition for divorce provided they have the other’s consent or 5 years without consent.
The current fault-based divorce system has forced divorcing couples to blame each other from the outset, resulting in bitter and often hostile divorce proceedings. This can also hinder separating couples’ ability to develop healthy and positive relationships with one another when co-parenting which in turn has a negative impact upon the children whilst growing up.
The announcement is very much welcomed by family lawyers who have been striving for a change in the law for many years. It will make divorce process less antagonistic, and will strike a balance between much needed law reform without undermining the institution of marriage in England and Wales.
The proposals for law reform include creating a joint application for divorce, removing the ability to contest a divorce, and introducing a minimum divorce time-frame of 6 months which will provide parties with a period of reflection, and the opportunity to change their mind before their divorce is made absolute.
The new legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as parliamentary time will permit.