The Ministry of Justice has announced that the so-called ‘no fault’ divorce Bill is to be one of the first bills tabled in the new Parliament.
In news welcomed by the national family justice body, Resolution, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill is being reintroduced into Parliament on 7th January having first been promised by the Government in April 2018.
Under the proposed new rules, separating couples will be able to mutually cite ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as the sole ground to obtain a divorce without having to attribute blame for the breakdown of the relationship.
The bill also proposes to introduce a new 20-week period of reflection between the initial petition stage and the grant of the provisional decree of divorce (the ‘decree nisi’) to allow couples ‘breathing space’ and an opportunity to agree future arrangements or even to change their minds about separating.
The need for a no-fault divorce in England and Wales has long been called for to bring the rules in line with modern living.
Under the current law in England and Wales, divorce proceedings are initiated with a spouse citing a reason for the divorce relating to their spouse’s conduct. This can be one of three grounds – adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, requiring evidence of their spouse’s guilt. The system has long attracted criticism for focusing on blame at the end of a marriage, exacerbating ill-feelings and detrimentally impacting any children that are involved.
Where the couple is not able to cite one of the three grounds with mutual agreement, they must separate and live apart for at least two years, or five years if one spouse contests the divorce, in order for the marriage to be dissolved.
A no-fault divorce system is being welcomed as modernising relationship breakdown by supporting non-confrontational approaches to separation, which include the increasing use of mediation over traditional, adversarial approaches.
It is hoped that a more collaborative system will also help divorcing couples and their children separate on more amicable terms and without the need to assign blame for the breakdown of the marriage.