The new-style divorce petition uses clearer language to explain how it should be completed, hopefully making life easier for the litigant in person, and court staff. However, in respect of a petition based on adultery, the new petition may cause greater confusion, complication and cost.
Whereas the old-style petition asked petitioners to confirm in the service section whether there was a co-respondent (a term with which many lay clients were not familiar), the new petition specifically asks for the ‘name of the person your spouse committed adultery with (co-respondent)’.
The new petition makes it clear in the notes that it is not normally necessary to name a co-respondent and that people do not generally do so, but surely this new wording is likely to result in more co-respondents being named, either because petitioners believe it is a requirement of the new petition, or because they cannot resist an open invitation to name the third party.
Naming a co-respondent has little or no advantage in most cases. Having a third party to the proceedings results in higher legal fees, which may not all be recovered by the petitioner. The proceedings can also take longer to conclude if a co-respondent refuses to cooperate with the proceedings. Naming the third party also adds fuel to what is often already an acrimonious situation.
As solicitors, we regularly have to discourage clients from naming in the petition the person with whom their spouse has committed adultery.
While intending to make the divorce process clearer, the new petition may actually lead to more co-respondents being named, albeit unintentionally in some cases.
Sarah Keily, Senior associate (family), Thomson Snell & Passmore, Tunbridge Wells