There was high hope that the long awaited reform to the UK’s current divorce regime would finally take place as the as the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill made its way through Parliament.
Unfortunately, the hope to reform has met a disappointing end in light of the recent suspension of Parliament. As the Bill had not made its complete passage through the House of Commons before Parliament was suspended, it means that the Bill has died with Parliament and the current divorce legislation lives on.
It is uncertain whether the bill will be revived when the new Parliament resumes in October, the answer to this will be given when the Queen delivers her speech later on in the year. What is certain however, is that the current law on divorce is still in need of desperate reform to cut ties with out-dated sentiments and the infamous “blame-game” that the current legislation has given birth to. It is also certain that many Politicians, members of the public and organisations such as Resolution will be lobbying for the new Parliament to return to the issue when Parliament is sitting again.
What is the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was introduced to Parliament on 13 June 2019. The purpose of the Bill was to address the problem within the current legislation which currently provides for one ground for divorce which is that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”. To evidence the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the Petitioner (i.e. the person applying for divorce) must rely on one of five facts, two of which are based upon the fault of the other party who must have either committed adultery or acted unreasonably (the fault based grounds). Due to the very nature of these allegations, it is no surprise that divorces based on this ground bring feelings of further hostility and acrimony between divorcing couples. Despite this, divorces based upon fault make up the majority of divorce petitions throughout the UK.
The remaining three grounds are not based on fault, however, they require parties to have been separated for a period of either two or five years before a divorce petition can be considered by the Court. For many divorcing couples this is a wait too long, prolonging the ties between couples who no longer wish to remain legally or emotionally associated with one another.
The current law as it stands also gives the Respondent the option of contesting the Petitioner’s decision to divorce, resulting in further bitterness and wasted costs as the parties bring their case before the Court. In cases such as these, the Petitioner will argue that the marriage has broken down and the Respondent will argue that the marriage either has not broken down or that it has broken down but not on the grounds but forward by the Petitioner. The only way to avoid a scenario such as this would be for the Petitioner to wait an extremely long period of five years before commencing divorce proceedings as the consent of the Respondent after this period of time will not be required.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill aimed to alleviate these problems by: removing the fault based grounds, removing the possibility of the Respondent contesting the decision to divorce, introducing a new option of a joint application to divorce where the decision to divorce is mutual and introducing new timeframes to the divorce process- all of which aimed to bring the legislation in line with modern day society.
Disappointingly, we wait further for the already long awaited reform. Until Parliament is resumed the bitter battle of divorce continues.