MPs back new ‘no-fault’ divorce law as it passes first Commons hurdle

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The bill passed its first Commons hurdle by 231 votes to 16 against last night. Currently, in order for divorce proceedings to begin one spouse has to allege one of five reasons as to why they have decided to divorce.

These five reasons are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, and two more reasons that involve periods of separation.

If passed, the bill would allow “no-fault” divorces to take place – meaning that couples only have to say that their marriage has broken down.

The bill is called the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, and it will also mean that once spouse will be unable to contest the divorce decision.

Currently, if one spouse wishes to divorce without consent from the other, they must have lived apart for five years.

Another key change that the bill will make is that it will no longer require a spouse to provide evidence of “conduct or separation facts” for divorce to go ahead.

Instead, one spouse will only need to provide a statement declaring that their marriage has undergone an “irretrievable breakdown”.

This will remove the hurdles that are currently in place that could prevent divorce proceedings from going ahead.

And in addition, the bill also allows for a new option that will allow couples to jointly apply for divorce if their decision is mutual.

The BBC reports that Justice Secretary Robert Buckland opened the bill debate, stating that the reform would seek to make separation “less traumatic”.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said that Labour supported the bill, noting that it offered a “common-sense approach” to divorce and that it would reduce “eye-watering” amounts of money in legal costs.

However, some Tory MPs are expected to rebel against the change to divorce laws.

The Telegraph reported last week that “dozens” of Conservative MPs were expected to vote against the law in its Commons vote yesterday, because of concerns that it would lead to a spike in divorces at a time when marriages are already under stress amid the Covid-19 lockdown.

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A Ministry of Justice spokesman said that the reforms put a minimum six-month time frame in place to allow for “the opportunity to turn back”, the BBC reports.

The BBC also adds that currently, less than two percent of divorce cases are contested.

But some are, leading to the high-profile case of Tini Owens who, in 2018, lost a Supreme Court appeal to divorce from her husband.

Mrs Owens wished to split from her husband Hugh after a marriage of 40 years.

However, Mrs Owens’ husband refused the split, and the Supreme Court ruled that because the couple had not lived apart for five years, the divorce proceedings could not yet go ahead.

Mrs Owens’ solicitor said that she was “devastated” by the result.

Mrs Owens had moved out of the matrimonial home in February 2015 – meaning that not enough time had passed for proceedings to go ahead.

One Supreme Court justice said that they had ruled against Mrs Owens with “no enthusiasm whatsoever”, adding that it was ultimately up to parliament to make the necessary reforms, the BBC reported.

At the time, the Ministry of Justice said it was already looking into such reforms.

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