Lords warn new divorce rules could be 'counterproductive'

Lords warn new divorce rules could be 'counterproductive'

Peers in the House of Lords have criticised "no fault" divorce rules, warning they could put divorcing couples at a disadvantage.

The second reading in the House of Lords on the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill took place yesterday (February 5) with peers warning no fault divorce rules could lead to the period in which couples have to settle divorce proceedings being significantly shortened.

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 couples seeking a divorce must give evidence of at least one of five facts, three being based on "fault" and two based on a period of separation. 

This means couples can currently divorce on the grounds of adultery, desertion, unreasonable behaviour, separation for two years if both parties mutually agree on the divorce, or on the basis of five years if one of the couple does not agree to the divorce. 

The new rules included in the bill will retain the "irretrievable breakdown" of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce but will replace the requirement to provide evidence of a "fact" with a requirement to provide a statement. 

It is hoped this will mean divorcing couples no longer have to blame each other for the breakdown of their marriage. 

Speaking on behalf of Baroness Deech, Baroness Meacher said there was scepticism as to whether the bill would reduce blame in divorce and may instead lead to couples settling their divorce quicker.

Baroness Meacher said: “Sadly, my noble friend Lady Deech is unable to be with us today. However, according to her planned speech, she would have expressed her scepticism about the likelihood of the bill being of any real benefit in reducing the blame game. 

"Of course, no fault is not a magic bullet. If a couple is in conflict about finance or parenting issues, that conflict will exist—the bill will not eliminate it.”

The Divorce Bill will create the option of a joint application for divorce, in addition to the current option for one party to initiate the proceedings, and introduce a minimum timeframe of six months from petition stage to final divorce to allow for a "meaningful period of reflection".

But Baroness Meacher added: “The proposed quick process based on no fault might, others have argued, be counterproductive by shortening the period during which a couple might begin to come to terms with the divorce and to settle."

Lord Morrow warned the new “no fault” rules could increase the number of divorces in the UK. He argued it would become easier to end a marriage as less justification would be needed.

Lord Morrow said: “On the one hand, I completely understand how removing fault will make divorces less acrimonious, which may be a good thing. 

“On the other hand, I completely understand that if marriage is a lifelong commitment, with all its extensive public policy benefits, there must be constraints on the freedom to exit.