The so-called no fault divorce Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday. Some newspaper articles hailed this as making divorce easy and paving the way for ‘the quickie divorce’. Experienced family lawyer, Jonathan Madge doesn’t believe it will bring either.
Divorce is never easy
Some people think divorce should be hard and that this would encourage married couples to strive harder to make their marriages work.
But my observation of those clients I help is that few if any rush into divorce without having thought out carefully whether they want to end the married relationship. They find marital breakdown causes a variety of emotions none of which mean the breakdown was welcome or the process of taking the practical steps to untangle their lives from each other is easy.
I do not believe it ever will be, whatever the actual legal process for ending a marriage. The process will always entail the disruption of at least one of the couple having to move home, the disentangling of joint finances and often negotiating the care of children and sometimes even pets. My clients find these to be major, stressful life changes even if they accept that the marriage has run its course. So the process is not ‘easy’.
No fault divorce leads the way for civilised divorce
The issue of whether divorce, if not easy, is at least made easier under the new Bill centres around being able to divorce without alleging the ‘fault’ of the other party. As the law stands now one party has to allege that the other has behaved unreasonably or, in the case of opposite sex marriage, the alternative is to allege that the other party has committed adultery. The common view amongst experienced family lawyers is that where a married couple have decided there is no future in the marriage it does not help the couple to have a civilised divorce if one is being compelled to make one of these allegations. Negotiations for a fair division of finances do not get off to a good start and, critically in the view of many, it hinders calm and objective negotiation of arrangements for the children.
Their only alternative to needing to make one of these allegations is to wait at least two years after separation before divorcing. In practice hardly any couples wait for two years: sooner or later one concludes that the family’s best interests are not served by waiting a further long period and decide, reluctantly, to go ahead with a behaviour or adultery Petition.
Under the new Bill it will be enough for one party to allege that the marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ with no need to make any allegations or face a two-year wait before beginning the divorce.
No fault divorce an easier and quicker way to divorce?
It is likely to promote calm and fair negotiations around the future lives of the family involved at least and, in that sense, easier.
But it won’t necessarily be quicker. The reason for this is that the Bill introduces a mandatory six-month period after the Divorce Petition is registered by the court before the parties can move to the next stage of divorce. The rationale behind this seems to be to give the couple a final period of time to consider whether they really want to proceed with the divorce.
At the moment there is no such period so divorces can, with a lot of co-operation, conclude more quickly than is likely under the new Bill.
The fact that some newspapers paint a negative and, in my view, inaccurate picture of divorce points up that the messages put out to struggling couples are confusing and may put people off approaching the issue of divorce with an accurate picture of what is in store for them if they are to part.
A balanced view of a couples situation is key
To understand what would happen in practice the best person to speak to is an experienced family lawyer. They will give you a balanced view of what the journey will be like neither claiming that it will be an easy process nor on the other hand that, without a lawyer’s help it will be traumatic and the outcome will be dire. They will help you navigate your way through the process keeping your objectives front and centre to help you to move forward to achieve a practical fair outcome for your family with less conflict for you and your family.
Jonathan Madge is a Divorce Lawyer and Director at The Family Law Company. He is an expert in divorce and finance law. To contact Jonathan about this or any other family issue please call 01752 674999 or email [email protected]