Home News Divorce lawyer praises landmark ‘no-fault’ divorce bill amid outcry from Tory MPs

Divorce lawyer praises landmark ‘no-fault’ divorce bill amid outcry from Tory MPs

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Now, a divorce lawyer has told Express.co.uk why the bill is significant, and what it leaves to be desired.

Currently, couples must be able to list one of three reasons as to why they are seeking a divorce – adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion – or otherwise prove they have lived apart for up to five years.

And what’s more, one spouse may effectively veto the proceedings altogether, which can further delay the process.

But the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will do away with these requirements, enabling divorce proceedings to go ahead without a particular reason being given, and even if one spouse disagrees.

The bill was voted through its first Commons debate with a comfortable pass – 231 votes to 16 against.

Even so, a number of Conservative MPs have voiced concerns about the bill – namely that it will lead to a greater number of divorces.

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The bill will remove many of the barriers to divorce currently in place. (Image: Karl Tapales / Getty)

But Jane McDonagh, a senior divorce lawyer at Simons Mui Burton LLP, says that the bill is overdue and might reduce the negative stigma surrounding divorces more generally.

“For a long time now [the new law] has been overdue,” McDonagh told Express.co.uk. “I think we need to do what we can to make it easier and oil the wheels for couples to get divorced once they’ve made that decision, rather than attribute blame which increases stigma, I think.”

McDonagh believes that the current system – of having to attribute some sort of blame on a spouse in order for proceedings to begin – can set a heavy emotional tone for the rest of the discussions involving, for example, children or money.

“I feel, from the lawyer’s point of view, that we’re doing a disservice to ask them to have that kind of conversations with their spouse at a time when, actually, they might not want to revisit who said what to whom.”

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Current laws require some measure of blame to be apportioned – which can cause issues. (Image: Image Source / Getty)

Forcing couples to blame each other – even if the split is mutual – can understandably cause issues, and for McDonagh it means asking them to go and discuss past behaviour to find something that they might rely on as worthy for causing divorce.

“It’s clunky, and it’s far from ideal, and it’s an unpleasant way to start the whole process,” she added.

One thing the bill will do away with is allowing one spouse to delay divorce proceedings by objecting to them. One high profile case involved Tini Owens, a Worcestershire woman who was “devastated” by a Supreme Court decision in 2018 that meant she would have to remain married to husband Hugh for two more years despite yearning for a divorce, because Hugh refused the split.

McDonagh said: “[The Owens case] just showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that if somebody is actually determined to defend against the divorce then it can cause huge problems.”

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Living apart for 5 years allows couples to get divorced more easily, but this is not always financially viable. (Image: Peter Dazeley / Getty)

She also explained the implications this could have for relationships that might be considered abusive.

“Imagine this situation where the husband – or the respondent’s – behaviour was so appalling but he then defended against the divorce, and the wife would have to decide whether to go through contested court proceedings to establish whether the behaviour took place, or to remain married for five years.

“Of course, the couple can move apart, [but] that’s very difficult sometimes – to live separately if the finances don’t allow it.”

However, the BBC reports that currently less than two percent of divorce cases are contested, and for McDonagh, the biggest issue at hand is dividing financial assets and discussing child arrangements. Unfortunately, this is something that the new bill does not really address.

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Critics of the bill say it does not address issues to do with financial settlements or children. (Image: Prasit photo / Getty)

She said: “We need to simplify the process of dividing assets in divorce, creating more certain outcomes for parties going through divorce, and of course this Bill does not address this.

“Neither does it address the rights and protections offered to long-term cohabiting unmarried couples, for whom the division of assets is governed by complex and outdated laws.

“Because discretion is so broad, one judge can make a decision on a case and another can have a very different view on it.”

However, she hopes that the bill will “pave the way” for new thinking in legal circles about how these issues are dealt with.

McDonagh concludes: “Everyone has their personal opinion about this – it’s a very personal thing. I look at it from the point of view of a lawyer, so I see that the law isn’t really fit for purpose at the moment because it creates problems between individuals at the point where we’re trying to solve them.

“But I understand and appreciate certain people think that marriage is sacrosanct and we should be focusing on that, which is, of course, a point of view.”

And some Tory MPs have made their points of view clear on the matter. In parliamentary proceedings to discuss the bill earlier this month prior to the vote, members voiced concerns about easier divorces, rather than support.

Sir Desmond Swayne, Conservative MP for New Forest West, said: “The difficulty I have is this: by making divorce more straightforward and easier, it becomes the first resort, rather than the last. It becomes the easy and quicker way out, vastly reducing the potential for counselling and reconciliation.”

Swayne also claimed that “divorce is the swiftest route to poverty.”

Danny Kruger, Conservative MP for Devizes, said he was concerned that the bill meant “the effective abolition of the marriage vow”.

And Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, doubted that the bill would not be used for “quickie divorces” and, as McDonagh pointed out, criticised the fact that the bill “does nothing to address” financial settlements or childcare arrangements.

But not all Conservative MPs shared the same views. David Simmons, Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood, and Pinner, said that less combative splits would be easier on children involved.

He pointed to research conducted by the Early Intervention Foundation, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Local Government Association which claimed that “it is the conflict between the parents, rather than the break-up itself, that is most significant in the child’s experience and development.”



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