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Parliamentarians have backed a bill that will introduce “no-fault” divorces in England and Wales.
Under the proposed law, spouses who state that their marriage has broken down irretrievably could be granted a divorce after just six months.
Current legislation dictates that, for divorce proceedings to begin immediately, one side has to allege that adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion has occurred.
Pointing out that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill aimed to make the process of separation “less traumatic”, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “No-one sets out thinking that their marriage is going to end, no-one wants their marriage to break down, none of us are therefore indifferent when a couple’s lifelong commitment has sadly deteriorated.
“It is a very sad circumstance but the law, I believe, should reduce conflict when it arises. Where divorce is inevitable, this bill seeks to make the legal process less painful.”
The bill introduces an option by which couples can jointly apply for a divorce, if the decision to separate is a mutual one. It also changes some of the terminology involved to make it more modern, replacing the terms “decree nisi” and “decree absolute“ with “conditional order” and “final order”. In addition, “Petitioners” will become “applicants”.
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said the bill offered a “common-sense approach” that would “promote conciliations and compromise” while reducing legal costs that could reach “eye-watering sums quite unnecessarily”.
Some MPs have, however, suggested that the bill undermines the institution of marriage. In a letter to the Telegraph, MPs including Sir Desmond Swayne, Sir John Hayes and Fiona Bruce suggested the government should be focusing more on helping couples reconcile than making the process of divorce simpler.
They also questioned the bill‘s timing, arguing that many “otherwise durable” marriages were already under “intense Covid-related strain”.
Earlier this month Co-op Legal Services said it had seen a 42 per cent increase in divorce enquiries between 23 March and mid May, compared with the same period last year.