Breaking up is hard to do: New divorce laws explained


Divorce laws are being overhauled in the biggest shake-up for half a century.

Here is all you need to know about the proposed changes:

Ending the blame game

Under new laws, divorcing couples will no longer have to blame each other for the breakdown of their marriage in court.

Currently in England and Wales, unless someone can prove there was adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without their spouse's agreement is to live apart for five years.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said this forces spouses wanting a divorce to submit evidence of a partner's wrongdoing or years of separation. They have to do this even when the decision to split is mutual.

New process

Spouses will be able to submit a "statement of irretrievable breakdown" to apply for divorce under the new laws.

There will also be the option for a joint application for divorce. Irretrievable breakdown of a marriage will remain as the sole ground for divorce.

No more contested divorces

While accounting for under 2% of the approximately 120,000 divorces triggered each year, the ability of a husband or wife to contest proceedings is being scrapped.

The MoJ said the practice is known to be misused by abusers to continue coercive and controlling behaviour.

Ministers also said that it takes both spouses to save a marriage, so allowing one to contest a divorce is of no use.

Wedding cake
Wedding cake

Breathing space and an opportunity to turn back

A minimum time frame of six months from petition to a divorce being finalised will be introduced under the proposals.

The current two-stage legal process, currently known as decree nisi and decree absolute, will stay in place.

However, it will take a minimum of 20 weeks to go from the petition stage to decree nisi and six weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute.

What was wrong with the existing laws?

Described as "archaic" and "outdated" by campaigners advocating reform, Britain's existing divorce laws had been shown to exacerbate conflict between divorcing couples, the MoJ said.

A consultation also found the system was potentially working against any prospect of couples reconciling.

A foremost concern was of the potential damage caused to children by undermining the relationship parents may have after divorce.

What effect might the changes have on marriage?

Justice Secretary David Gauke insisted the Government "will always uphold the institution of marriage", but said the law should not create or increase conflict between divorcing couples.

When will the changes be introduced?

The MoJ said the new legislation is expected to be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows.