Divorce Reform – is it as good as it seems?

14th Jun 2019

There won’t be many of us who have not noticed the recent announcements in the media from the Justice Secretary, David Gauke in respect of major divorce reform.

What’s all the hype about?

The reports state that this is the biggest shake up in divorce law for 50 years – and that’s probably correct as the current laws are 50 years old.

Basically, the new reforms will end the current process which relies on one party blaming the other for the breakdown of the divorce if they have not been separated for a period of two years or more.

The current law means that if the parties have not been separated for at least two years the only option is to divorce on either the ground of unreasonable behaviour or adultery.  If a third party is not involved that leaves the parties having to exaggerate or, indeed fabricate, examples for the divorce petition that constitute ‘unreasonable behaviour’.  I’m sure I’m not the only divorce practitioner that has advised a party who is on reasonably amicable terms with their ex to go off and have a coffee with them and ‘agree’ what the reasons for the divorce are going to be!

If the parties aren’t that amicable then developing examples of unreasonable behaviour can led to more arguments that are necessary, just to get the divorce off the ground –and if there are then financial matters to resolve an acrimonious start does not help matters.

It is not conducive to positive negotiations regarding a financial settlement to be resolved if the party receiving the divorce papers feels that they are totally exaggerated and constitute “a pack of lies”.

Furthermore I find it extremely difficult explaining to a client who has separated amicably from their partner that they “just can’t get divorced!” And that if they don’t want to wait two years they will have to, ultimately, “exaggerate the truth”.

What is planned?

Well the divorce reforms will mean that instead of one party having to blame the other or show a certain period of separation they will only have to submit a statement to the court of “irretrievable breakdown” to say that the marriage has broken down.  However, there will have to be a six month period from the filing of the divorce to the decree absolute to allow for reflection and counselling, if necessary. (And given the current delays at the family court this won’t be too difficult to fulfil!)  Joint applications will also be able to be made.

The reforms will now be introduced into legislation as soon as there is enough parliamentary time which, will, hopefully, coincide with on-line divorces becoming more accessible for all.

Will this mean that solicitors will no longer need to be involved if I want to get divorced?

There is no doubt that the new reforms will make the obtaining of a divorce more straightforward and ‘user friendly’ for people who wish to do it themselves.

However, as Baroness Shackleton pointed out on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour it will be more effective for those couples who live in a cramped flat together and just want to ‘get out’.

For those couples who need to resolve financial matters the reforms will not help with this but will merely allow for the logistics to be dealt with more quickly and for the lawyers to concentrate on the settlement of financial issues.

Warning – legal advice is and still will be required where there are financial issues to address.

These reforms are, however, great news for everyone involved in family law that wish to see divorces obtained more amicably.


Victoria Richardson


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