No Fault Divorce Bill Passes Legal Milestone
The last few months have been difficult for many couples and some may be thinking of separating or divorcing. Some good news was announced this week as the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has had its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday (Monday 8th June 2020) and was passed by 231 votes for to 16 against by MPs. It is thought that this could become law as earlier as the end of this month.
The Bill plans to introduce “no fault” divorce where currently, in order to start divorce proceedings without waiting until they have been separated for more than 2 years, one spouse has to allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour against the other, and if the other spouse will not agree to the divorce the parties have to have been separated for more than 5 years.
The intention is to remove what has been called the “blame game” and reduce conflict from divorce proceedings as currently only 2% of divorces are contested anyway. It removes the right to contest the divorce, except in very limited circumstances, such as fraud and coercion. It also allows couples to apply jointly for a divorce, where the decision to separate is a mutual one. There must be a minimum period of 6 months from the lodging of the divorce application (petition) and the final order (currently known as the ‘decree absolute’). The terms ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’ will be replaced by ‘conditional order’ and ‘final order’ respectively.
The bill does not seek to change the rules relating to division of finances on divorce. The finances will not be automatically resolved on the granting of the final order. In most cases, it will be advisable to hold off or delay the granting of a final order until the financial claims have been resolved. Such claims are only dismissed on the granting of a financial remedy order by the court, either after a contested application has been made, or where the parties come to an agreement and apply for a consent order. In either case, a judge will have to approve the order and can veto this if it appears that the agreement is unfair, or any information is missing from the paperwork, or even in cases where one or both of the parties is not represented.
It is, therefore, advisable to seek the views of a family solicitor before reaching an agreement and checking to make sure that the terms will be accepted by the court. It is always sensible to have an agreement written up as either a formal separation deed (where divorce proceedings are not taking place straight away or there will be a delay before the final order and money or property needs to change hands straight away) or a formal court order. If formal arrangements are not in place, it will be open to either party to make an application to the court at any time, unless they are debarred from doing so due to their having remarried.
It is always advisable, before remarriage, to ensure that financial claims by your former spouse have been dismissed otherwise you could find those claims being made many years later, when your financial circumstances may have changed for the better, as the court may ignore changes in fortune or increases in the value of assets which occurred after the separation. If you are planning to start divorce proceedings, or were divorced without having secured a formal financial settlement with your ex-spouse, you should contact our Andrew Hill on 01539 723757 for an initial no obligation telephone call or to arrange a video conferencing call while the current coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures are in place.
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