The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, received its Second Reading in the House of Commons yesterday. The headline effect of the Bill, if passed, would mean a party to a marriage wishing to divorce would no longer need to allege fault (adultery or behaviour) or desertion, in order to begin the divorce proceedings immediately.
As the Bill has already gone through the House of Lords, it is edging closer to being given Royal Assent. That could mean the legislation within the Bill coming into effect immediately, or within other timeframes. On occasion the timeframes from start to finish for any Bill being passed can be days, or many years. As the Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords in early January this year, and the average time for legislation to be passed is around a year, the prospect of being able to divorce on the basis of no-fault could be available to all from early January next year, if not sooner.
The Times has though now reported that ministers are keen to see the legislation receive Royal Assent as soon as the end of this week. One does wonder if that momentum is in part down to the pressures that many people have faced during the Covid-19 lockdown, having to live under the same roof and who have come to the realisation that they no longer want to be married, or had reached that conclusion prior to the lockdown, but either way have been placed in incredibly difficult circumstances.
Alternatively it could be an acceptance that there is no time like the present to bring in legislation which has had a number of false starts over the years, despite it being recognised by the vast majority of family lawyers and other professionals working with separated parties, that having to allege fault in order to bring a marriage to a more prompt end can often exacerbate the difficulties being experienced, which not only impacts negatively on either spouse, but also impacts negatively on the children to the marriage. Whilst people will no doubt continue to seek to place the blame on the other party, No Fault divorce would have the effect of one formal avenue being closed off to them in order to apportion that blame.
When (and one would certainly not hope if, given the progress made to date) the Bill is passed, under the current proposals, there would need to be a minimum six-month period between the divorce petition being issued by the Court and the marriage being formally brought to an end by way of divorce. For all concerned, the pertinent question now is when we will be able to lodge a No Fault divorce petition at Court. Could it be as early as next month? Could it be sooner?
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Head of Family Law