The government has put its plans to remove fault from the divorce process on a legislative footing as justice secretary David Gauke pledged to end unnecessary 'mudslinging'. The lord chancellor said he was proud to introduce the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill to the House of Commons yesterday.
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 20 weeks has passed from the start of proceedings.
Gauke said: 'Marriage will always be a vitally important institution in society, but when a relationship breaks down it cannot be right that the law adds fuel to the fire by incentivising couples to blame each other,' he said. 'By removing the unnecessary mudslinging the current process can needlessly rake up, we’ll make sure the law plays its part in allowing couples to move on as amicably and constructively as possible.'
The Ministry of Justice's consultation on reforming the legal requirements for divorce attracted at least 600 responses, which were 'broadly supportive' of Gauke's proposal to remove the fault-based system.
Family experts welcomed the bill.
Margaret Heathcote, chair of family law group Resolution, said: 'Every day, our members are helping people through separation, taking a constructive, non-confrontational approach in line with our code of practice. However, because of our outdated divorce laws, they’ve been working with one arm tied behind their backs.'
Hannah Field, head of the family law team at London and Surrey firm Russell-Cooke, said cross-party support for the reforms was a 'hugely positive step'.
Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society, said including a reflection period earlier in the divorce process would allow couples adequate time to seek legal advice and mediation to reduce conflict.
Professor Liz Trinder, who has conducted extensive research on the divorce process, said: 'Divorce will always be an extremely difficult time for couples, but these reforms will help make sure that the law does not make it worse for those involved, particularly children. As our Nuffield Foundation research showed, making people produce a "reason" to obtain their divorce - as they are currently required to do - does not save marriages and instead just creates a meaningless charade that can create conflict, confusion and unfairness.'
No date has been announced for the bill's second reading.