Divorce reform is back on the legislative agenda.

It appears that divorce law may finally be brought up to date. It was feared that the general election could have led to two family law bills being forgotten (given the focus on Brexit) but the government have confirmed that both will be re-introduced to the legislative agenda.

The first of these bills is intended to reform Divorce law by introducing “no-fault” divorce. As the current legislation stands, you can only divorce on a no-fault ground following a long period of separation. In all other cases one party must make an allegation against the other to allow the divorce to progress. Sadly, this often sets off a case on an acrimonious footing and sets the wrong tone for financial negotiations. Parties often become defensive by what can be seen as an attack where the other party does not intend the petition as anything other than a means to an end.

In other cases, couples may delay the divorce or any legal advice on their options until the period of separation has passed (minimum 2 years) to ensure an amicable way forward can be found. This can then cause unintended complications with the division of the parties’ assets. For example, the parties may have made additional post separation contributions they wish to protect or feel unable to progress or set-up a business, as they do not wish their ex-spouse to benefit.

Both of these scenarios can lead to a loss for the parties because matters may become more contentious increasing time, stress and costs and perhaps limiting financial opportunities. Most worryingly, having to make an allegation has prevented spouses from resolving matters altogether which can cause further issues down the line.

Needless to say the move to a “no-fault” divorce system is widely supported by everyone working in the family law sector and has been championed by the family law body resolution.  However, the bill or a similar bill has been introduced on previous occasions (making the most progress in 1996) but has not made its way into law yet. It is thought this may be on a public policy decision to ensure that it is not “too easy” to divorce. However, this thinking appears to have changed and it is hoped that this bill will be successful. There is still a long way to go but all those with an interest in family law will watch its progress closely.

The second bill is to protect victims of domestic violence by introducing a statutory definition of abuse to include non-physical and financial abuse. There will also be safeguards during criminal and/or family proceedings to include preventing the perpetrator cross-examining the victim and an obligation to provide safe housing upon councils. The family law community also support this bill and it is hoped that more victims will feel empowered as a result of the changes.

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP

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