There is a new law – The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill – coming which allows for divorce without alleging fault or waiting for years.
Some of the media call this a new ‘quickie‘ divorce. But some say this will slow things down.
Which is right and what difference will it make to me?
There have been years of political and religious argument on the divorce process The Family Law Reform Act of 1989 was only voted down at the last minute, otherwise this would have become law over 20 years ago.
The argument is over whether there should be allegations of fault, a wait for 2 years (with consent) or 5 (without consent) – or should divorcing parties be allowed to deal with the end of their relationships in a civilised way with a simple allegation of breakdown of marriage in a reasonable timescale, allowing for reflection but without requiring mudslinging or an unbearable wait.
So now all is changing – or is it?
The only thing that is changing is the divorce decree process – financial and child arrangement applications are not affected.
Husbands and wives who wish to divorce will be able to petition, jointly or separately, for a divorce based on a statement evidencing the breakdown of the marriage. How that will be drafted is not yet clear, but if they do not petition jointly, the responding spouse will not be able to defend the fact of the breakdown of the marriage.
In other words, if one says it’s over, then it’s over.
In reality, in the vast majority of cases this has been the law for years, but husbands and wives had to submit allegations of unreasonable behaviour or adultery if they wanted to petition immediately. This led to a lot of unpleasant wrangling over who would divorce whom and on what grounds – even if they both knew this was just a means to an end, the sight of the allegations in black and white caused bad feeling.
So, the new law faces the fact that if one party wants a divorce, they can usually get one.
But is this going to be quicker?
A new time limit is imposed so that the first stage of the divorce (called at present the decree nisi but soon to be a conditional decree) cannot be granted for at least 6 months after the application for a petition.
At present there is no such time limit – but the process and court administration delays mean that a wait of six months is currently quite standard.
So, it is unlikely this will speed things up significantly – but it should help to avoid unpleasant and unnecessary tussles over allegations on the history of the marriage which have been making things worse. In particular, most people do not regard relationships with third parties years after separation as adultery – yet they are regarded as such in current divorce.
So, will this change things for you?
I hope it will reduce unnecessary animosity, but don’t expect a quickie divorce any time soon!