A North East family law expert has welcomed the outcome of a Government consultation on reform of the UK’s divorce laws and backed the changes to which it will lead.
Nicola Matthews, head of the family law department at Hay & Kilner Law Firm in Newcastle, was speaking after Justice Secretary David Gauke announced that divorce laws in England and Wales are to be overhauled to enable couples to dissolve their marriages more straightforwardly and with less acrimony.
Under the current system, couples that have lived apart for at least two years can apply for a divorce if the desire for one is mutual, but if one party does not consent to the divorce, this period is extended to five years, unless one party accuses the other of committing adultery or behaving unreasonably.
The new reforms remove the need to give a reason as to why the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”, with the applicant simply notifying the court that the marriage has done so.
Divorcing parties would not need to live apart for any set period of time, nor provide evidence of a partner’s misconduct.
Nicola Matthews says: “Most divorcing couples simply want to move on with their lives with as little fuss as possible, and based on my experience of dealing with hundreds of divorce cases, I believe these are long overdue, sensible changes that will lead to a far greater number of better outcomes for separating couples than is currently the case.
“Until now, in order to divorce within two years of separation, one party has to ‘blame’ the other for the breakdown of a marriage, even if a couple have simply grown apart, want to split up amicably and there’s actually no blame to lay.
“This often makes an already emotionally challenging situation even worse, with acrimony and resentment that was not previously there quickly building as a result.
“It can also have unintended, long-term consequences in situations where the divorcing parties will need to have a continuing relationship that is most likely based around their children.”
A minimum timeframe of six months from petition stage to the issuing of a decree absolute, the legal document that officially ends a marriage, is included in the reforms.
At the end of this time, the person applying for the divorce will have to reaffirm their decision to seek a divorce before it can be granted, so that “a meaningful period of reflection” and “an “opportunity to turn back” is provided if the situation changes.
A new option will also allow couples to apply for a divorce jointly, while individuals would no longer be able to contest any divorce application made by their spouse.
Nicola Matthews continues: “Safeguards have been built into the new process to help ensure that divorce proceedings are carefully considered over a sensible length of time, but without putting barriers in the way which senselessly draw the process out for no good reason.
“The emotional difficulties that divorce entails for everyone involved will of course remain, but this new regime should make the whole process much more straightforward and less confrontational to the benefit of everyone involved.”