Proposed legislation removing fault from the divorce process could be days from receiving Royal assent as it goes through the remaining stages of its parliamentary journey today.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was first introduced to the House of Commons on 14 June last year but came to a standstill twice – as a result of September’s prorogation of parliament and December’s general election. After passing a second reading in the House of Commons last week, the bill was committed to a committee of the whole house for today. This means all MPs will be able to debate and vote on the measure.
The bill will replace the requirement to evidence conduct or separation 'fact' with the provision of a statement of irretrievable breakdown. The possibility of contesting the decision to divorce will be removed. The court will be able to make a conditional order after a minimum of 20 weeks has passed from the start of proceedings.
Family lawyers, who have long campaigned for no-fault divorce, have widely welcomed the bill.
However, as MPs prepare to debate the bill a final time, the Law Society has again called for the legislation to be amended to ensure ex-spouses are not left financially vulnerable as a result of pension orders.
Simon Davis, president, said: ‘The bill should be amended so that a final divorce order cannot be granted until the pension sharing order has taken effect. Pensions are often overlooked during the divorce process as couples can be focused on dividing other assets – such as the family home and shared bank accounts.
‘However, if the couple chooses to divide their pension using a pension sharing order and a spouse passes away after the final divorce is granted before the order comes into effect, there is a chance the order could fail.
‘As the divorce has been finalised, their ex-partner would also be unable to claim as a widow or widower – leaving them financially vulnerable. Amending the bill would prevent any unfair financial burdens falling on the remaining partner at a time of grief.’
The government proposes starting the minimum timeframe at the initial divorce application stage. Solicitor David Hodson, of The International Family Law Group, said it should begin from the date of service on the respondent. ‘Easy, conventional, orthodox, fair across the board to all respondents, and gives maximum opportunity for consideration of reconciliation or negotiation,’ he said.
Solicitor and mediator Caroline Bowden, a consultant at Anthony Gold, suggests introducing a notification or halt process to protect respondents before a divorce is finalised. ‘It would refer to reasons why finances should be settled before the final divorce decree. This would then block a final decree until a final financial order, the respondent decided to lift it or the applicant successfully challenges the notice as being without merit,' Bowden said.
‘This method of protection would meant that respondents do not have to apply to the courts to get protected, by filing a Form A, which triggers court proceedings. The advantage of the notice or halt procedure is that couples may well be able to sort matters, as now, without going through the courts, but the respondent still needs the protection from final decree whilst they do so.’