Two recent developments in divorce could result in people finding it more acrimonious and expensive to untie the knot. Whilst the law still requires one spouse to find fault with the other to start proceedings immediately when the marriage has broken down, more emphasis is unfortunately being put on blaming one another.
Changes to the divorce statement (“Petition”) will shortly be introduced. Whilst made to be more user friendly, as highlighted in the press over the weekend, a significant change in adultery cases is a box asking for the name of the person with whom your spouse has committed adultery (“the co-respondent”). In small print it does state that ‘people do not generally name the person their spouse committed adultery with.’ The concern is that the box will be completed without thinking through the consequences of doing so.
The reason for concern is because family lawyers who are members of Resolution (www.resolution.org.uk) are committed to deal with family matters in a conciliatory way, providing advance copies of the petition and generally trying to proceed in a civilised manner. Naming a co-respondent is an understandable reaction for someone whose spouse has been unfaithful. However, a third party is likely to add conflict and complexity to what is already a challenging situation. If the third party protests their innocence, this could mean delay in the divorce and incurring more costs.
This will inevitably start the process off on a difficult basis rather than trying to focus on resolving issues in the best interests of the couple and any children, if applicable.
The other fault-based option as a ground for divorce is ‘unreasonable behaviour’. A case, which will be decided by the Supreme Court, concerns the question whether ‘isolated incidents consisting of minor disputes’ amount to unreasonable behaviour. Is this encouraging petitioners to set out all aspects of behaviour, however intimate, including some designed to cause embarrassment or hurt?
Has family law moved backwards rather than forwards? Should people be forced to stay in a marriage that they do not want to be a part of, or has it become too easy to bring a marriage to an end?
Resolution, The Association for Family Lawyers, is committed to persuading the Government to remove fault-based divorce. This is surely the way forward to avoid the increased acrimony that invariably arises in adultery and unreasonable behaviour petitions and which increases costs and the time taken to resolve issues. Former spouses want to resolve the issues that matter such as agreeing parenting arrangements for the children and negotiating a financial settlement rather than entering into the blame game.
All of us in the family team at Hart Brown are committed to resolving issues in a conciliatory way and looking at all options for resolving issues outside court, through mediation, collaborative and arbitration.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.