Weightmans backs reform of outdated divorce laws

Family law experts at national law firm Weightmans have filed their response to the government’s consultation into divorce reform.

Family law experts at national law firm Weightmans have filed their response to the government’s consultation into divorce reform, backing the plans to remove fault from the system to help separating couples to divorce in a more amicable way.

Under current laws, it is necessary for someone wishing to divorce to rely on one of five facts to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. These are:

  1. Their spouse committing adultery.
  2. Their spouse behaving in such a way that they cannot reasonably be expected to live them any longer.
  3. Their spouse has deserted them for the past two years.
  4. They have lived apart from their spouse for two years and their spouse consents to a divorce.
  5. They have lived apart from their spouse for five years.

Matthew Taylor, Solicitor in the family law team at Weightmans said:

"The government has proposed replacing the requirement to rely on one of the five facts with a notification process. We wholeheartedly agree with this. The five facts are unnecessarily complex and divisive. They promote conflict, have a negative impact on any children and make what is already an emotionally draining process even harder.

"We have proposed that provision should be made for couples to be able to jointly give notice of their wish for a divorce in addition to each party being able to do so individually. This would provide separating couples with a dignified approach to divorce and the opportunity to explain to their children that this was truly a mutual decision.

"We also believe that a spouse who is the recipient of a notification of divorce should not be permitted to defend the divorce (other than where there is a dispute as to the validity of the marriage or a dispute as to which jurisdiction divorce proceedings should take place in). As recent high-profile cases have shown, there can be no good reason for forcing a person to remain in a marriage that they believe to be over.

"While the consultation proposes that the current bar on divorce in the first year of marriage should be retained, we take a different view on that point and consider that there is no reason why anyone should be forced to remain married to another person if they consider that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, regardless of when that point is reached. Retaining this bar would also prevent parties from reaching a financial settlement at the earliest possible time and prevent them from moving on with their lives.

"Finally, we think it is essential that anyone going through a divorce is provided with sufficient information regarding the importance of coming to a settlement in respect of finances upon divorce, including the impact that divorce can have on certain marital benefits (such as the loss of a widow’s pension) and the effect that a subsequent remarriage has on the court’s ability to resolve financial matters.

"Divorce reform is long overdue and it is hoped that the government will move forward with the proposed reforms as quickly as possible to create a simpler, fairer and more amicable system."

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