I Do… Not: Pressing reforms to divorce law put on hold

December 5, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The long awaited reforms to divorce law, as exemplified in the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, come to a standstill as Parliament focuses on the upcoming elections.

What does this mean?

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was introduced into Parliament in June 2019. The bill would introduce provisions for no-fault divorce, eliminating the need for divorcing individuals to blame their partners for the breakdown of the relationship in court. 

Specifically, one would no longer need to legally prove irretrievable breakdown through one of five “fault” facts as per the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Instead, one of the parties must make a statement confirming the breakdown of the relationship which will be accepted by the courts as sufficient evidence. The bill also proposes abolishing the ability to contest a divorce (save specific factors such as jurisdiction, fraud and coercion).

However, as the 12th December elections loom ahead, this legislation has been placed on the back burner as Brexit negotiations take the forefront of parliamentary debate. With the uncertainty of Brexit, it is unclear when the bill will be enacted.

What's the big picture effect?

This much-needed overhaul will have a great impact on how divorce proceedings are conducted. Experts note that not only will it better manage relations but also have a positive spillover on how divorce impacts children as well.

The removal of the fault requirement will help to promote a less acrimonious atmosphere for divorce proceedings as couples no longer need to pinpoint specific actions or behaviour patterns of their spouses as a reason for their divorce. This will help to reduce the hostility that historically has accompanied divorce, facilitating a civil environment through which couples may resolve outstanding issues such as splitting of assets and custody arrangements. A more amicable atmosphere will be beneficial for any children involved, reducing the potential negative effects of parental conflict on their emotional wellbeing. 

Removing the ability to contest a divorce will also eliminate the occurrence of unfortunate cases like Owens v Owens. Mrs Owens was unable to get a divorce because her husband successfully contested her petition against him. Although these are exceptional circumstances, as divorce petitions are not often contested, it clearly demonstrates the coercive behaviour that may occur should defended divorces be allowed to continue. The bill’s removal of this provision will again help to remove avenues for greater hostility. 

While many national issues hang in the balance with the exit from the European Union, it is of vital importance that Parliament remembers the pressing domestic concerns that have been overlooked as a result of Brexit. The fact that individuals like Mrs Owens must now wait for 5 years to get a divorce arguably speaks volumes about the kind of reform that is needed in the law. The sooner Parliament can refine the bill’s provisions to the satisfaction of both Houses of Parliament, the better for everyone.

Report written by Debra Lim

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