It has been interesting to watch the television coverage and read news stories about the government’s divorce law reforms, which remove the blame from the divorce process allowing separating couples to focus on what really matters.
At Cartridges Law we are among a wide alliance of legal professionals, social policy experts and commentators (including The Law Society, whose Family Law Committee I chair) which support this change, and have done for years; but some organisations are against it.
I watched a debate where a representative of a ‘family Christian charity’ spoke of his concerns about the reforms – fearing they would undermine family values, breakdown the institution of marriage and make children’s lives unstable.
I understand the need for a balanced debate, but some of these attitudes feel shockingly out of date in the 21st century.
We believe removing blame from the divorce process and introducing a six-month timeframe, allowing couples to reflect on their decision, will change the way divorce works – for the better.
According to the Office of National Statistics, an estimated 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce. In 2017, there were 101,669 divorces amongst opposite sex couples and 338 divorces of same sex couples.
At Cartridges Law we understand what an emotional and highly stressful experience divorce can be, exacerbated by having to prove one of five reasons in current legislation. This process means that for separating parents, it can be much more difficult to focus on the needs of their children when they have to prove a fault-based fact against their former partner. The couples we see do not take divorce, or their marriage for that matter, lightly and their visit to our offices are often the last resort for them.
The reforms will also introduce the potential for joint applications to be made, which is an interesting concept and one which may appeal to couples who feel they have simply ‘grow apart’ over time.
Currently there are five grounds for divorce, all of which will go under the new law; but they aren’t all strictly fault-based.
- For a divorce without delay you can use unreasonable behaviour or adultery (2 grounds.)
- Another fault option is desertion – this is after 2 years and does not require co-operation from the other party (1 ground)
- Two years’ separation and consent (slow route, but not fault-based) (1 ground)
- And finally, five years’ separation and the other party still doesn’t consent.
Although the last two are not fault-based they still have the effect of adding to the stress by making people wait in marriages they want to leave.
The case which brought the divorce laws to a head was that of Mr and Mrs Owens. Tini Owens was forced to remain in her marriage as her husband refused her request for a divorce. Despite appealing to the Supreme Court, she was unable to overturn that decision. Under the new law, this will change and the unhappy partner will not be able to block their spouse.
At Cartridges Law we support the work of Resolution, an organisation of 6,500 family lawyers and professionals from across England and Wales which believes in ‘a constructive non-confrontational approach’ to family law matters and we have always believed it is of the utmost importance to put children first when entering into a divorce.
The key benefit of these reforms, will in my view, be the re-focusing of divorcing couple’s minds on the family’s future, particularly the children, which can surely only be a good thing for thousands of families across the country.
Contact Cartridges Law on 01392 256854 or visit www.cartridgeslaw.co.uk