Will the new Divorce Bill survive Coronavirus?
In order to divorce at the moment, there have to be material facts as to why one party would like to divorce the other. Adultery is one reason, such that the betrayed spouse finds it intolerable to live together any more - and the offending person outside of the marriage does not need to be named by the way. Unreasonable behaviour resulting in irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is another. Desertion and long term separation provide the basis for the remaining facts. But I want to write about the unreasonable behaviour bit. What constitutes unreasonable behaviour? Toenail clippings in the bath? Constant belittling? Obsessive discipline about table manners in the family? Compulsory church going? Compulsory tiddlywinks late at night? Many and varied have been the behaviours cited. Usually the person accused does not agree with the unreasonableness at all and has found themselves to be entirely reasonable throughout the marriage. And it is at this point, at the point of parting which is so poignant and difficult for people, that they have to come up with agreed 'unreasonable behaviours' before they can achieve their divorce. It is also at this point that they are having to face the realities of what exactly it will look like for the family to break down. Where exactly will Johnny be on Tuesday nights? And who precisely will take him to football every Saturday morning? And that is before the gut wrenching decisions about dividing family possessions and negotiating maintenance payments or pension sharing orders. Forcing people to re-live their reasons for the breakdown of their marriage at this juncture can only add fuel to the fire and lead to acrimony and tussle in the courts.
Rare is the person who can accept tales of their unreasonable behaviour being picked apart in court. Recognising this, mediators and many family lawyers have been clamouring for a change in the law such that people can choose to divorce if they so wish. This is the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill and it is now with the House of Lords after three attempts to get it through parliament before. The combination of elections, more elections, Brexit and so forth has held it up. But hopefully we will get to a point where there is 'no fault' divorce; the fact that there has been irretrievable breakdown and people are applying to divorce is good enough - without having to divulge the reasons why.
For those who are nervous that this will mean that divorce becomes too easy, there is a long cooling off period. There has to be a 20 week gap between applying to divorce and gaining the decree nisi. This time period is new. The gap between decree nisi and absolute remains the same at 6 weeks and a day - so you cannot just divorce and be done with it. It will take a good 6 months from start to finish leaving plenty of time for reflection and changes of heart. Appropriate consideration still needs to be given to finances and children but the heat of why the marriage broke down is removed from the legal proceedings.
Slowly the Bill is bubbling its way up to the top of the pile again and I really hope that it is not submerged under the weight of Coronavirus which might delay its implementation.