Government pledges divorce law overhaul

Government pledges divorce law overhaul

Divorce legislation will be reformed "as soon as parliamentary time allows" to reduce family conflict and end the blame game that is facilitated by existing laws, the government has said.

Justice Secretary David Gauke today (April 9) pledged changes to the "outdated" divorce laws in England and Wales through the introduction of "no fault" divorce. 

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 of separation if one of the couple does not agree to the divorce. 

Mr Gauke's proposals 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 a marriage. 

The new legislation will also 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". 

Mr Gauke said: "Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.

"While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.

"So I have listened to calls for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame game for good."

Mr Gauke's proposals followed the government's consultation on reforming the legal requirements of divorce, which ran from September to December last year, and will update the current 50-year-old legislation.  

Responses to the consultation showed concern for the wellbeing of children under current divorce law and the risk of abusive partners contesting divorces to continue controlling behaviour over their spouse.

Heather Owen, financial planner at Quilter Private Client Advisers, said: "Today the government is taking steps to bring archaic divorce legislation up to speed with modern life.

"Divorce law hasn’t changed since 1973 and its outdated nature is hard to miss.

"The new legislation aims to overhaul divorce law and reduce family conflict. But no matter how good natured your divorce is or how simple it seems, the separation of jointly owned assets can be costly and complex and requires a rethink on estate planning, inheritance and tax planning."

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "If you thought getting married was impossibly expensive, you should try getting divorced.

"Technically, you can untie the knot for under £1,000, but when you take two angry people, and pit them against one another, the legal bills alone can easily spiral to £30,000 or more."