No-Fault Divorce: Latest Legislation Updates

Posted on January 9, 2020
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It’s been a busy start to the new decade so far – at the beginning of the week we delved into why Monday 6th January was dubbed ‘Divorce Day’ in our article New Year Divorce or Dissolution: Advice for Parents, and we’ve already seen some exciting developments to the legal landscape with Parliament kicking off plans for 2020 on Tuesday 7th January.

This week marks the reintroduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill to Parliament, which puts so-called ‘no-fault divorce’ firmly back on the agenda for 2020. The legislation, warmly welcomed by family lawyers, is the biggest shake up of divorce laws in half a century, and was one of our top 10 legal milestones of the last decade. Jefferies takes you through what the biggest changes are, and what the Bill’s significance is for those considering divorce or dissolution.

What is ‘no fault divorce’?

Under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, couples who decide to divorce will no longer need to prove that their marriage has broken down due to a partner’s adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion. This means that you can now issue a petition without the worry of their being some ‘fault’ on your partner.

Changes to current divorce law were spurred by the media uproar following the case of Owens v Owens in 2018, in which the Supreme Court unanimously rejected Mrs Owen’s appeal for divorce after her husband refused to separate. You can read the full details of this case, and the background of the ‘no-fault’ divorce Bill here.

Why hasn’t the ‘no fault divorce’ Bill passed already?

The Prime Minister’s prorogation of Parliament in September 2019 meant no-fault divorce legislation was automatically dropped, as it essentially ran out of time to be passed before the end of the parliamentary session.

With the re-election of Boris Johnson’s Government in December 2019, the slate was wiped clean, meaning MPs had to start from scratch to progress the Bill through parliament. However, the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019 specifically addressed the issue of ‘no-fault’ divorce, by including the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill among 21 other Bills to be taken to Parliament in the New Year. The Queen’s specific words were that her Government would ensure ‘the courts work better for all those who engage with them’.

What does ‘no fault divorce’ mean for those considering separating?

The implications of the Bill are best summarised by the words of Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP: ‘The institution of marriage will always be vitally important, but we must never allow a situation where our laws exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing’.

Also intended to make the process smoother is the addition of a 20-week period between the initial petition stage and when the court grants the provisional decree of divorce (the ‘decree nisi’). The Bill therefore, provides the breathing space necessary for couples to reflect and consider the decision without acrimony, which will also better enable couples to co-operate as they make arrangements for the future, particularly the financial matters, which may open up a new can of worms.

What’s next for ‘no fault divorce’?

There’s still a long way to go before ‘no fault divorce’ becomes a reality for couples going through the difficult process of separation – no date has as yet, been set for the second reading of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill in parliament. However, it looks likely to pass this year and bring significant changes with it to the landscape of family law in this new decade.

In the meantime, we at Jefferies are able to support you with your divorce or dissolution proceedings no matter the degree of complexity. As Farah Naz, specialist Family Law Solicitor can attest: ‘Ending a relationship with a loved one can cause a lot of emotional turmoil, and you may find yourself in a position where you need some added support and assistance in deciding what is the right thing to do for your future and the future of any dependent children.  At Jefferies, we are not only skilled at what we do but are also known to go over and beyond in ensuring the best outcome is achieved’.

For support with your situation, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly and experienced team on 01702 443 480 or email us.

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