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Will the proposed new divorce laws end the blame game?

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Justice Secretary David Gauke recently announced new legislation that will be introduced to Parliament to update our 50-year-old divorce law which many feel encourages conflict.

The move follows a public consultation where family justice professionals with direct experience of divorce, including FDR Law’s Partner and Head of Family, Ruth Hetherington have been lobbying for reform.

Ruth summarises the planned changes below:

The current law requires people seeking divorce to give evidence of 1 of 5 facts; 3 are based on ‘fault’ (adultery, unreasonable behaviour & desertion) and 2 are based instead on a period of separation, 2 years’ separation if the other spouse consents to the divorce and 5 years’ separation otherwise, even in cases where a couple have agreed to part ways.

The new legislation proposes:

  • retaining the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce
  • replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
  • retaining the two-stage legal process currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute
  • creating 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
  • introducing a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute).

Introducing a minimum timeframe will provide a meaningful period of reflection and the opportunity to turn back. Where divorce is inevitable, it will better enable couples to reach agreement on practical arrangements for the future. Courts will retain the power to speed up the process where appropriate.

Ruth has long been an advocate of reducing conflict when a relationship breaks down and said this of the proposed changes “These reforms have been on the table for a long time and I am hopeful that they reduce conflict within the process of divorce and focus the parties attention on other matters that arise as a result of separation. ”

Our Family team at FDR Law can already offer a range of solutions to help resolve family disputes including Collaborative Law, contact us on 01925 230000 or ruth.hetherington@fdrlaw.co.uk to find out more, or visit us at www.fdrlaw.co.uk

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