The Civil Route To Divorce

The Civil Route To Divorce

It’s taken some time. A lot of time. But the Government have finally announced, subject to a caveat about consultation, that it will reform the legal requirements for divorce.

The divorce team at Wolferstans has for a long time supported the campaign for the removal of blame from the divorce process. The recent case of Owens v Owens highlighted the problems in the current divorce process and has led to the government publishing the September 2018 consultation paper: ‘Reducing Family Conflict: Reform of the legal requirements for divorce. The Justice Secretary finally seems to have recognised that raking up the past to justify the legal ending of a relationship is no longer in the public interest.

The BBC quoted the Justice Secretary, David Gauke as saying: “We think that the blame game that currently exists helps nobody. It creates unnecessary antagonism and anxiety at an already trying time for couples.”

The proposed removal of the need to allege fault as part of the divorce petition would mean that it would no longer be necessary for one party to have to set out reasons for the breakdown of the marriage which effectively blame the other. Currently, as the process has been so blame focussed, it can then make it especially difficult for the parties to move on and deal with financial or child matters in an amicable way.

Under the new proposals a party would just need to provide notification that the relationship had irretrievably broken down, which is a far more neutral way to deal with the breakdown of the marriage. The consultation paper states clearly that in such a situation the law should not stand in the way of achieving better outcomes for all concerned, especially any children involved.

It may seem a matter of common sense that parties to a marriage, or any relationship, should not have to justify a decision to separate to anyone other than themselves. The proposed way forward in this consultation may just make that a reality: dragging the law relating to marriage into the twenty first century.

The areas for consultation include:

  • Removing the requirement to have a fault-based divorce process and instead changing this to a notification (of irretrievable breakdown);
  • Removing the ability of a spouse to contest the proceedings, meaning that if one party feels that the marriage should come to an end then they are allowed to proceed with this.
  • Still only allowing couples either in divorce or civil partnership dissolution to only petition (or apply for the dissolution) after they have been married or in a civil partnership for a year or more.
  • Procedural safeguards including requiring legal representatives to certify whether they have advised their client about reconciliation and/or where they may get appropriate help.

The consultation is due to close on 10th December 2018 and the response to be published on 8th March 2019.

Wolferstans has a team specialising in the divorce process.

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