Correcting a few misunderstandings about the new Divorce Act

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

OK, I realise I'm jumping the gun just a little. The Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Bill, which will bring in a system of no-fault divorce, has not yet received the royal assent. But it is surely now just a matter of (a short amount of) time.

This is of course good news, welcomed almost universally by anyone with an interest in family justice. However, despite the best efforts of the supporters of the reform to explain it, there still seem to be a lot of misunderstandings about what exactly the new Act will do (and not do), so I thought I would answer some of them, and hopefully put a few minds at rest.

1. It will not bring in 'quickie divorce'. It is true that we will no longer have defended divorce proceedings, which can take many months to be dealt with, but the new procedure will actually take longer than is possible under the current system, particularly if the divorce is being dealt with online. Whilst (in theory at least) it is possible now to get a divorce done in about three months start to finish, under the new system it will take a minimum of six months. Quickie divorce was only ever a myth, perpetuated by tabloid newspapers - it never existed, and will continue not to exist.

2. It does not make divorce 'easy'. Just because there will be no requirement to attribute blame for the breakdown of the marriage, the new system will not make divorce any easier, at least for the vast majority of couples. Save for those few cases that are defended under the existing system, the most difficult aspects of the divorce (at least from a legal point of view) will remain: sorting out arrangements for children and finances. No one is going to decide to get divorced just because they think it will be easier to do so!

3. It will not increase the divorce rate. Apart from those few people, such as Tini Owens, who are having to wait until they have been separated from their spouse for five years, there will be no stampede for divorce. There may be a temporary increase in the divorce rate, but things will soon return to normal (whatever that is).

4. It does not devalue marriage. Why should it? How did having to blame the other party for the breakdown of the marriage ever strengthen a marriage? See also paragraphs 1 and 2 above.

5. It does not mean that the 'guilty party' will 'get away with it'. The law has not for very many years penalised a 'guilty' party, by denying them a relationship with their children, or their full share of the matrimonial settlement. When deciding such matters the court is generally not concerned with the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage. The reality is that if there is to be any 'punishment' for causing or contributing towards a marriage breakdown, then it will not be imposed by the law.

6. The new system will not make it easier for wives to 'fleece' husbands. There seems to be an argument that wives will view no-fault divorce as a charter enabling them much more easily to take their husbands 'for every penny'. It won't. As already indicated, divorce will neither be quicker or easier. The law on financial settlements is unchanged (although it may of course be reformed in future).

7. It is nothing directly to do with disputes over arrangements for children. Again, the law in this area is unchanged. However, it may make it more likely that, by reducing animosity, parents will be able to agree arrangements.

8. Last, but not least, it has nothing to do with Sharia divorce (a suggestion I came across on Twitter). I'm not quite sure why anyone may think this, but I can assure the reader that the new system takes nothing from Sharia law.

No doubt there are other misunderstandings that I have forgotten or not heard about, but hopefully this covers the most common ones.