Landmark changes to divorce?

Difficulties with our current divorce system have hit the headlines again this week following the government’s proposals to remove the ‘blame game’ from divorce proceedings.

In order to get divorced, a couple must prove that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. This single ground for divorce does not change under the new proposals, but the need to provide examples of the other party’s conduct does. Currently, the process forces one party to cite examples of their partner's unreasonable behaviour or provide details of their adultery, creating conflict and upset. Alternatively, couples have to wait a minimum of two years to divorce after which they can then rely on the length of their separation instead.

Understandably, the need to point the finger, often and unnecessarily, drives a wedge between separating couples. Families dealing with divorce are already experiencing an extremely difficult time without the added conflict often generated by this legal requirement.

Forcing couples to play the ‘blame game’ also causes energy to be diverted away from the important issues such as what is best for the children and how the finances should be separated. Since launching the divorce process is usually the first step, the atmosphere in which those subsequent arrangements are made is often tainted from the start.

The government’s proposals also introduce a new procedure allowing one or both parties to notify the court of their intention to divorce, as well as a potential minimum timeframe of six months for the divorce itself.

With the negotiation of financial matters running alongside the divorce process, many divorces take longer than six months to conclude. Careful planning will be  needed to ensure that proceedings are started early to prevent unnecessary delays further down the line.

The consultation also considers removing the opportunity for a spouse to contest a divorce application, as was the case for Mr and Mrs Owens (read more about the case here). Whilst this is rare in practice, it can lead to a lengthy and costly court battle.

Changes to legislation that support separating couples’ ability to maintain a working and amicable relationship, especially where children are involved, have been long-awaited. 2019 could finally be the year that the UK adopts this widely-welcome change.

The government’s consultation closes in December 2018, after which the results will be considered ahead of deciding final legislative changes.

For further information on divorce law, or to discuss a family-related matter, please contact Megan Prideaux or another member of Thrings’ Family team.

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