​What are the Government’s plans to modernise the divorce law?

The Government's plans to modernise the UK’s outdated divorce laws have been published recently, following Mrs Tini Owens’ legal battle to divorce her husband earlier this year.

Mrs Owens was told that an unhappy marriage was not a basis for divorce, despite having been separated from her husband for some time. She therefore remains married to Mr Owens until they have been separated for five years.

Few couples have the money to spend on legal bills arguing whether or not they should remain married. Whilst Mrs Owens’ much publicised case represents a very small minority of cases, it has drawn significant attention to how out of date the divorce law is: it highlighted that in the modern day era perhaps a more streamlined and less adversarial approach would be in everyone’s best interests. 

The current law states that unless you have been separated for a specific period of time (two years if your husband or wife will sign a form agreeing to be divorced or five years if they won’t) then you have to blame your other half if you want a divorce. In 2016 almost 12,000 divorces were issued on the basis of adultery. 48,000 were on the basis of allegations that the other party had behaved in a way that the petitioner could not reasonably be expected to live with them.

Family lawyers and Judges generally agree that blaming the other person does not help pave the way for agreements being reached about children and/or property and money.

So what’s being proposed in the recently issued Ministry of Justice Reducing Family Conflict consultation paper?

  • The only basis for divorce will be the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. The individual wanting the divorce will be required to give the Court notice of their intention to divorce on the basis that they believe their marriage to have broken down irretrievably.
  • Divorce is to remain a process which involves two certificates being issued: the first confirming that the parties are entitled to a divorce and the second dissolving the marriage.
  • There is to be a new minimum time limit between the two certificates of six months. If the couple is already separated, this will lengthen the period of separation before they are finally divorced.
  • There will be no opportunity to defend a divorce. 
  • The existing requirement that couples must have been married for one year before they can divorce will still apply.

The Government has published a consultation paper in relation to the proposed reforms which will close on 10th December 2018. Changes to the law are envisaged to follow soon after. 

If you’d like to discuss divorce or any of the issues outlined above with a member of our Family Law team, please call 0113 201 4902 or email family.law@emsleys.co.uk

Gabbie  Clasper

Written by

Gabbie Clasper

Head of Family Law

Gabbie has over 20 years’ experience in family law. She has expert knowledge in complex issues including financial aspects following divorce; pre and post-nuptial agreements; cases with an international element; and civil partnerships. Gabbie is regularly instructed by clients based across the country and abroad. She...

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