Marriage is one of the most important institutions we have. The principles of long-term commitment and responsibility which underpin it bind society together and make it stronger.
The end of a marriage is an extremely painful time for any couple. However, when a relationship ends, it cannot be right for the law to introduce or exacerbate conflict between divorcing couples. Currently, couples have an incentive to blame each other for the end of marriage based on ‘unreasonable behaviour’, adultery or desertion unless they can wait to divorce on the basis of separation for a minimum of two years, even if the separation is mutual. If one spouse objects to the divorce then the other spouse must wait five years before seeking a divorce.
The Government has announced proposals which would mean that the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage will remain the sole ground for divorce, as it is now. At the same time the new proposals will remove the need to show evidence of the other spouse’s conduct, or a period of living apart. A new notification process will be introduced to allow one, or possibly both parties, to notify the court of the intention to divorce. Finally, the proposals will remove the opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce, which serves no practical purpose.
These reforms do not introduce a ‘quickie divorce’. Indeed, I understand that for around 80 per cent of cases divorce will actually take longer than it does at the current time. A new minimum period of 20 weeks will be introduced from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a conditional order of divorce may be made. The six-week minimum period between conditional and final orders will remain.
Removing the archaic requirements to allege fault or show evidence of separation will lead to a less acrimonious process in most cases, reduce the legal costs and help families look to the future.