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No fault divorce finally approved

Family lawyers have welcomed a major change to divorce law as no fault divorce passed its final hurdle.

After decades of campaigning by divorce lawyers, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has finally been passed by Parliament.

The bill, which received Royal Assent on 25 June, will bring about the end of the blame game and will come as a welcome relief to some of the 100,000 couples that divorce in the UK each year.

Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, The Rt Hon Robert Buckland said: “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. By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”

There are still concerns by some. Law Society president, Simon Davis said: “We have long argued the notice period should begin when the divorce application is received by the respondent, rather than when the divorce is applied for – ensuring both partners are on the same page from the start and have sufficient time to seek the legal and financial advice they need. We commend the government for moving forward with the legislation and would welcome opportunities to address our concerns around the notice period.”

Richard Johnson, divorce lawyer, commented: “As a divorce lawyer, it’s my role to help couples navigate the divorce process and achieve a fair outcome. The no-fault concept will minimise opportunities for conflict, reduce the emotional cost of separation and minimise the impact on any children the couple have.”

However, we will need to wait a while longer. It is likely to be towards the end of 2021 or even early 2022 before couples in England and Wales can realistically take advantage of the no-fault route.

If you are planning to separate or divorce, make sure you know your rights before you take any action. Speak to our friendly team on 01302 320621 or email family@athertongodfrey.co.uk 

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One size does not fit all in divorce cases

A bill making its way through parliament has come under severe criticism from the president of the Supreme Court.

The bill in question, the Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill, if approved, will see pre-nuptials and post-nuptial agreements become legally binding where certain conditions have been met.

It would also see that matrimonial property was divided equally and a five year limit imposed on spousal maintenance, except in cases where the spouse would be likely to suffer serious financial hardship.

Introduced by Baroness Deech, the bill has already made its way through the House of Lords and is now before the House of Commons, although no date has been set for its second reading.

Baroness Hale, who has been president of the Supreme Court since September 2017, has questioned what she calls the bills’ “one size fits all” approach.

In her speech entitled ‘What is a 21st Century Family’, Lady Hale also referred to critics of the ‘no fault’ divorce legislation currently making its way through parliament. She commented: “More threatening in my view is Baronesses Deech’s bill, which has made its way through the House of Lords and is now before the commons.

I can see the attractions of all of this when set against the agony, the uncertainty and the expense of seeking out tailor-made solutions. But I question how one size fits all can possibly meet the justice of the case or fulfil the role of the family in shouldering the burdens which it has created rather than placing them upon the state. I fear that it assumes equality between the spouses which is simply not there in many, perhaps most cases.”

David Kirkman, specialist divorce lawyer at Atherton Godfrey, commented: “I could not agree more with Baroness Hale. Baroness Deech’s bill, for all its good intentions, is likely to lead to serious injustice in individual cases. When every set of circumstances is unique, fairness demands a discretionary approach to dividing financial resources. In addition, the particular form of this bill is likely to mean that those experiencing unfair outcomes are more likely to be women than men. Hopefully the legislation will not pass the House of Commons.”

Lady Hale is a strong supporter of divorce law reform. She has also attacked government policy over opposite-sex couples entering into civil partnerships.

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Divorce ‘blame game’ almost at an end

There may not be much agreement in parliament at the moment, but one thing that does have cross party support is a landmark Bill that entered the Commons on 13 June 2019.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will force a huge shake-up of divorce laws that have been in place for almost 50 years. The Bill aims to reduce unnecessary conflict between divorcing couples by removing the need to attach blame or make allegations about each other.

Don Bird, senior partner and head of family law at Atherton Godfrey, commented: “These proposals have widespread support from the public and professionals as well as politicians. Under the new proposals divorce will not become easier or quicker, it will simply become less acrimonious because the need to attach blame has been removed. The proposals also introduce a minimum time frame that will help couples to focus on what’s important and find agreement on matters involving their children and financial issues.”

Justice secretary David Gauke said: “Marriage will always be a vitally important institution in society, but when a relationship breaks down it cannot be right that the law adds fuel to the fire by incentivising couples to blame each other. By removing the unnecessary mudslinging the current process can needlessly rake up, we’ll make sure the law plays its part in allowing couples to move on as amicably and constructively as possible. I’m proud to introduce this important legislation which will make a genuine difference to many children and families.”

Margaret Heathcote, chair of Resolution, the family justice professionals group, added: “We’re delighted that the government is introducing legislation which will help reduce conflict between divorcing couples.  Every day, our members are helping people through separation, taking a constructive, non-confrontational approach in line with our Code of Practice. However, because of our outdated divorce laws, they’ve been working effectively with one arm tied behind their backs.”

Under the current law couples have to evidence that their marriage has broken down irretrievably by proving adultery or unreasonable behaviour or stay in the marriage for at least two years, even where both have agreed the marriage is at an end.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will:

• Allow couples to make a joint statement that their marriage has irretrievably broken down
• Remove the ability for one party to contest the divorce
• Introduce a 20 week ‘cooling off’ period giving couples time to reflect on their decision after which they will need to confirm that they cannot reconcile