Warning bells have been sounded over women facing financial vulnerability if rushed divorces were to spike during the coronavirus pandemic in the face of new "no fault" rules.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill cleared its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday (June 8) with 231 MPs voting in favour of the new legislation, compared with 16 votes against it.
The legislation, dubbed the "no-fault" law, would require couples to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown and replace the need for evidence of conduct, such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour, or proof of separation.
It is hoped the new rules will mean couples no longer have to blame each other for the breakdown of a marriage and remove unnecessary conflict during the divorce process.
But advice giant Quilter has warned if the rules were to result in an increase of "DIY" divorces without proper advice during the coronavirus crisis, this could leave women particularly exposed to financial vulnerability in retirement.
Jon Greer, head of retirement policy at Quilter, said: "While many will agree the UK’s archaic divorce legislation is due an overhaul, the timing of the government’s plans to speed ahead with the introduction of ‘no fault’ divorce is questionable with many families under increased strain financially and emotionally.
"We know people dealing with the emotional stress of divorce fail to make important decisions about major financial assets, such as their pensions.
"The introduction of no-fault divorce laws during the current pandemic could exacerbate this, with a further increase in ‘DIY divorces’ where specialist advice is not easily accessed or sought."
Mr Greer warned this could see many miss out on vital pension benefits, with the risk more likely to impact women than men given they often have a less sizeable pension of their own.
In November last year the Chartered Insurance Institute called for pension sharing to be the default position in divorce proceedings, amid warnings only 18 per cent of divorces included the measure and married men's pensions were five times that of married women.
Mr Greer added: "It’s fairly typical for people to put greater focus on splitting tangible assets, like the family home, with many under-estimating the impact of mismanaging the split of a pension in divorce.
"Figures from the Family Law Courts show only 13 per cent of 116,612 files for dissolution in 2019 contained some sort of pension settlement order, in part explaining the gender disparity in wealth.
"Divorcees need to make sure they are receiving professional advice, both legal and financial, before, during and after any divorce case to ensure any settlement is fair for all parties involved. It should not be acceptable for pensions to be ignored, since they will have a major impact later in someone’s life."
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill passed through the House of Lords in March, despite warnings from its members the "no fault" divorce rules could lead to the period in which couples have to settle divorce proceedings being significantly shortened.