Lawyers ‘will welcome plans to overhaul divorce law’

Lawyers specialising in family court litigation will welcome Government plans to overhaul divorce laws, a solicitor said.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said legislation will be introduced after a consultation revealed support for reforms of the existing fault-based system.

Jo Edwards, a family law specialist based at law firm Forsters, said solicitors and barristers would get behind the Government’s plans.

The lawyer said: “News of there being plans to legislate for no fault divorce, after the consultation last autumn, is welcome to all those who work in this area, who see the unnecessary acrimony caused day in, day out by the current fault-based system.

“What this change will mean for separated couples is that they will no longer have to apportion blame for marriage breakdown (when it is rarely the fault of one spouse only), or else wait for at least two years of separation before they can have a divorce.”

David Gauke
David Gauke

But she added: “To be clear, this is not about making divorce easy and marriage disposable; rather, the changes aim to make divorce a more neutral process given that most people only decide to divorce after very careful reflection and counselling.”

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 proposed new arrangements will keep “irretrievable breakdown” of a marriage as the sole grounds for divorce.

But, rather than having to provide evidence relating to behaviour or separation, divorcing spouses will be required to make a statement that the marriage has broken down.

The ability of a husband or wife to contest a divorce – used in under 2% of cases – will be scrapped under the shake-up.

The existing two-stage process, in which a decree nisi is followed by a decree absolute, will be retained under the proposed new system.

It will introduce a six-month minimum period that must elapse between the lodging of a petition to the divorce being made final.

The Government is also planning to make it possible for couples to make joint divorce applications, alongside the current option for one party to initiate the process.