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No fault divorce bill ‘needs clarity’

Draft legislation set to introduce set to introduce no fault divorce in England and Wales needs more work, the Law Society has claimed.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons earlier this month. It then went to the parliamentary Public Bill Committee for detailed examination and consideration. The Law Society, a professional body representing solicitors in England and Wales, wrote to the Committee.

If it becomes law the bill would amend the stalwart Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, removing the current need to cite one of five specific reasons when applying for divorce. Most of these allege wrongdoing of some kind by the applicant’s spouse. This requirement will be replaced by a simple declaration that the marriage has broken down, a statement that can be made jointly if the break-up is amicable.

The Society welcomed the introduction of the bill but called for a range of amendments. These included:

  • Moving the required 20-week period for reflection from the period between the conditional order for divorce (the ‘decree nisi’) and the final order (the ‘decree absolute’). Instead this period should be inserted towards the beginning of the divorce process, the Society believes. This would allow couples to fully consider their options and seek legal advice.
  • The inclusion of ‘signposting’ to marriage and relationship support services, to encourage reconciliation between the couple in question.
  • Merging the conditional and final orders for divorce into a single stage, once both parties confirm that they intend to go ahead. The Society states: “The present six week period is a historic reference that is now obsolete; there is no technical need for this in modern law.”
  • A cut in the current court fee for divorce applications (£550). This is “too high”, the Society insists, and it “discriminates against those are less financially able”. The government’s new online divorce options should encourage a cut in this fee.

The Committee made no amends to the bill and it is now moving towards a third reading in the House of Commons.

Read the Law Society submission here.