The complexities of Permanent Leave to

Divorce Bill Wings Its Way Through Parliament

The second reading on the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill took place in the House of Lords on 5th February 2020.

The Divorce Bill was introduced for the first time by Lord Keen of Elie on 7th January 2020 whose mission is to stop what has been termed the ‘blame game’ which can have ever-lasting irreparable damage to all parties involved.

Lord Keen stated:

“The irreparable damage will have been done long before an application to the court to bring a legal end to the relationship. The Government believe that the law should deal with that reality in a way that not only protects society’s interests in marriage but avoids making the legal process of divorce or civil partnership dissolution unnecessarily antagonistic. The end of a marriage will always be difficult for the couple and children involved. It cannot be right that the law adds to that by incentivising the attribution of fault.”

He continued:

“The Bill has a clear purpose in seeking to reduce the conflict that can arise from the current requirements for obtaining a divorce. That is all the Bill does. It will not make divorce painless or an easy choice. It will not take away the difficult decisions couples have to make about their future lives, but it will pluck out the legal sting whose effects can be felt long into the future……… Removing unnecessary conflict from the legal process of divorce will, we believe, create a more amicable environment in which a couple can agree their future arrangements.”

Keen believes that since the Divorce Act 1969, couples have been allowed to divorce ‘without blame and by mutual consent’ for over 5o years. However, the process forces them to be in ‘limbo of separation for at least two years’ meaning they try and move on, leading separate lives but legally remain married and unable to plan for the future.

This ‘limbo of separation’ coupled with conflict amongst parents can also be particularly damaging and have a huge impact on children as Keen said ….”research shows that it is conflict between parents that is linked to greater social and behavioural problems among children rather than the separation and divorce itself.

Resolution’s Chair, Margaret Heathcote believes couples should be able to divorce more amicably and constructively so everyone involved can move forward in their lives. She said:

“because of our outdated divorce laws” [family lawyers have had to work] “with one arm tied behind their backs.”

Keen ends by saying:

“It is time to end what has been termed the blame game. It is time to minimise the harm to children that can arise from the legal process and not give it a chance to worsen where conflict already exists. The reforms that we have set out today will deliver a revised process of divorce that protects all our interests in marriage, reduces the potential for conflict and its impact on children, and is fit for the 21st century.”

Lord Anderson of Swansea broadly accepted the terms of the Bill but expressed reservations and hoped the Government would accept that there are “real dangers”. He added:

“The worthy aim in the past was permanence, however, unrealistic in actual situations. Today we are moving in a different direction, with its own dangers.”

He recited one such example of danger which was published in the Daily Mail recently where ‘Baywatch’ star Pamela Anderson tied the knot last month in which both parties were marrying for the fifth time. Lord Anderson said:

“The marriage, we are told, lasted for about 12 days. That is perhaps the ultimate cheapening of the institution of marriage.”

However, Lord Burt of Solihull ‘wholeheartedly’ welcomed the Bill as she believes no-fault divorce will:

“take some of the tension and emotional strain out of leaving a marriage”

Burt believes using fault and blaming the other party as a reason to get divorced:

“can lead to recriminations – something children traumatised enough at the break-up of their parents do not need to witness.”

The next stage of the bill commences next month. The Committee stage – line by line examination of the Bill is scheduled for 3rd March 2020.

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