• Zep Bellavia

Divorce: ending the blame game

Many solicitors, particularly those who specialise in family law, have for some time viewed the UK’s divorce laws as out of date.

The end of a marriage is a painful time for all involved but the current process – which effectively means one party must be at fault – can make the situation even worse.

Adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or separation for either two years (if both parties agree to the divorce) or five years (if a spouse disagrees with divorce) are the current ‘five facts’ of the process to prove irretrievable breakdown.

Inevitably, blame is apportioned in one way or another via this process.

As you may have read, the government announced earlier this month that it is to introduce legislation that will remove the concept of fault from the current divorce process.

After the law is reformed, couples or individuals will only have to tell the court their marriage has broken down irretrievably. The ‘five facts’ listed above will disappear from divorce legislation.

Other changes proposed include ending the ability of a spouse to contest a divorce and introducing a minimum time frame of six months from petition to decree absolute.

In general, legal professionals have welcomed the plans. Removing blame and simplifying the system is a good thing.

I agree with the Law Society that no-fault divorces will reduce conflict and allow divorcing couples to focus on their children and finances rather than who is to blame for the irretrievable breakdown.

The changes are not about making divorce easier or downgrading the importance of marriage; they recognise the world has changed and divorce should not be made any more painful than it already is.

Indeed, some would argue the government’s proposed reforms do not go far enough. Many lawyers would like to see Legal Aid reinstated for early advice for divorcing couples. Despite being a recommendation in the Law Society’s response to formal consultation, there was no reference to this when the government announced its plans.

The other key issue is time scale. Brexit dominates the legislative programme in parliament and is likely to do so for many months to come.

That means the proposed new divorce laws – and any other new legislation – are unlikely to come to fruition during the life of the current parliament.

As welcome as the government’s changes might be, further delay to implementing them is to be regretted.

Zep Bellavia is Managing Director of Newport-based solicitors and accountants Bellavia & Associates.

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