A monumental reform of the divorce laws should see the ‘end of the blame game’ which currently requires separating spouses to attribute ‘fault’ to their partner if they want to divorce relatively quickly.

The proposed new government legislation, which Justice Secretary David Gauke said in April would be introduced ‘as soon as parliamentary time allows’, introduces a minimum six-month timeframe to allow couples to reflect on their decision and also eliminates the ability to contest a divorce.

As Fiona Yellowlees, a Partner in the Family Department at WBW Solicitors, explains,

‘Currently, under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, couples in England and Wales can only divorce if they can show their marriage has irretrievably broken down. This requires one spouse to show that their partner was guilty of adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour, or that they have been separated for two years and both sides agree to a divorce.’

‘If no fault can be allocated, and the other party contests the divorce, couples are currently required to live apart – but stay married – for five years before a court will grant a divorce.’

Spouses will no longer have to show evidence of adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour but will instead need to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown. The two-stage legal process of decree nisi and decree absolute will be retained and couples will be allowed to jointly apply for a divorce if they choose.

The new rules – which follow a public consultation – arose following the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that Tini Owens should not be allowed to divorce simply because she was unhappy. So she was required to stay married until she had lived apart from her husband for five years.

How a solicitor can help on divorce

If you are considering a divorce, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. A specialist family lawyer can talk you through your options, including (until the new law is introduced), which ground you should rely on. They will also ensure all the required paperwork is in order and negotiate with your former-partner if required so you do not have to.

Before the matter goes to the divorce courts, however, it is often worth trying mediation or collaborative law to try and come to an agreement with your former partner on issues such as future financial, childcare or property arrangements.

Mediation involves an independent mediator – who does not take sides in the dispute – sitting down with the couple to help them reach an amicable agreement.

Collaborative law involves each partner having their own collaborative lawyer to offer legal advice and help to resolve any issues during face to face meeting between the couple.

For further information, please contact Fiona Yellowlees in the Family Law team on 01626 202415 or email fionayellowlees@wbw.co.uk. WBW Solicitors has offices in Newton Abbot, Torquay, Paignton, Bovey Tracey, Exeter, Launceston, Honiton Exmouth and Sidmouth.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.