The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was back in parliament on 7th January 2020 for first reading in the House of Lords after much disruption.
The current legal process for divorce requires one spouse to make allegations about the other’s conduct. This is to avoid waiting to divorce on the basis of at least two years of separation. Such allegations, or reasons of unreasonable behaviour, can cause conflict during the legal process and afterwards. This can be especially damaging for children of the relationship. This is particularly important for parents, as conflict is damaging to children’s well-being.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill proposes reform of the legal requirements and process for divorce. It aims to minimise contention from the divorce process and introduces a new minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and conditional order (new name for decree nisi). The existing six-week period between conditional order and final order of divorce (decree absolute) will be retained. These two timescales will mean that a divorce cannot be finalised in less than six months.
Proposed changes to the bill
- Replace the requirement to provide supporting evidence of unreasonable behaviour with a new requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown. No further evidence will be required.
- Remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce. The court will take the statement of irretrievable breakdown to be conclusive evidence that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.
- Introduce a new minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and confirmation to the court that the conditional order should be made, and retain the current minimum timeframe of six weeks between conditional order and final order.
- Introduce a new option of a joint application for cases where the decision to divorce is a mutual one. The current ability of one spouse only to initiate the legal process of divorce will be retained.
- Update terminology used, for example replacing terms such as “decree nisi”, “decree absolute” and “petitioner” with “conditional order”, “final order” and “applicant”.
As yet, there is no date for the next stage of the bill to progress through parliament. The new changes will then need to be implemented into the divorce system.