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Is this the end of ‘quickie’ divorces?

The days of a quickie divorce are numbered – if you want to name and shame, it’s time to get your divorce in, writes Emily Brand.

Contrary to the current trumpeting that we are finally about to get ‘no fault’ divorces, these have in fact been available since 1969. The real change lies in the removal of the two year waiting period prior to obtaining a no fault divorce (if your ex consents) or a five year period (without their consent), during which time you have had to live separate lives.

There has always been only one ground for divorce, namely that a marriage has irretrievably broken down. Under the present law, you have to cite a ‘fact’ (adultery, unreasonable behaviour, separation or desertion) to evidence the ‘irretrievable’ breakdown. This is all to be washed away: in the future, a statement of irretrievable breakdown will suffice, regardless of how long you have been ‘separated’.

However rather than truly easing the way to separation for unhappy couples, the government has chosen to pursue a highly paternalistic agenda by introducing a new period of ‘reflection’; namely a mandatory statutory period of 20 weeks between the issuing of the divorce petition and the pronouncement of the first divorce order (the Decree Nisi).

There is a further six week delay until the second and final order of divorce (the Decree Absolute) can be applied for – which is the same as the current law.

Apparently, this is to ensure that couples have a period to ‘reflect on the decision to divorce’ and ‘to change course’ or ‘agree arrangements for the future’ if divorce is the only option. Only those who have lived through marital breakdown know exactly when the death knell finally tolls on a marriage.

As anyone who has had to write a cheque for the princely sum of £550 to the Court (which they require before they will open, contemplate and stamp your document with a Court seal) in respect of your divorce petition will no doubt tell you: if your marriage wasn’t over before then, it certainly will be afterwards.

In the old days, before our courts were clogged with litigants in person unable to afford legal representation (a direct consequence of cutting legal aid), you could get a quickie divorce in two to three months (if both parties took each step of the process expeditiously).

Now, it will take a statutory minimum of 26 weeks to get a divorce, irrespective of the situation in which you find yourself – more than half the gestation period of a baby…

It takes only a couple of minutes to marry in a Register Office and perhaps even less to conceive a child (I’m told) so why does the government still consider that it should impose periods of reflection on adults who know their relationship is over?

I dread to think how many millions were spent on the consultation period for this new legislation. In my view, it would have been better spent on helping those in need of proper legal representation to ensure a seamless transition to financial independence in the aftermath of a marriage.

The days of a quickie divorce are clearly numbered: and if you want to name and shame – time to get your divorce in, quick!

This article first appeared in Spears Magazine on 27 January 2020. Find out more about our Family Law services. 

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