The ongoing pandemic has placed many pressures on our personal lives, with one in five relationships struggling to survive according to research by University College London. It’s a further regrettable statistic from the past two years, but if divorce is inevitable, couples who work together to shape their separate futures are likely to have a more positive experience than couples who go into battle over financial and childcare arrangements.
A major development intended to help change the conversation for couples is the introduction of no-fault divorce. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will come into force in April 2022, replacing the existing Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which has required one party to prove their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour, with the only alternative being a period of separation: two years where both parties agree to divorce, or five years if one side does not consent.
The new Act allows married couples to issue divorce proceedings without assigning blame, as only a statement of irretrievable breakdown will be needed. It also makes it possible to file for divorce jointly, allowing couples to reflect a mutual agreement to part.
While the Act introduces a minimum period of six months from initiating divorce proceedings to when the final order can be granted, this is unlikely to impact couples any more than the present process, because of the severe delays presently affecting the family courts.
According to government figures, most cases are taking more than nine months to be heard, which is one-third longer than before the pandemic. Figures like this have led the justice secretary Dominic Raab to say that he wants to reduce the number of family law cases that reach court.
While the minister has emphasised that cases involving safeguarding or domestic abuse should continue to be heard by a judge, he believes that all others should be handled outside the court system, which would mean around half of all cases being settled by other means.
Having the involvement of someone with the right expertise can help avoid going to court and the stress and cost that this brings.
Mediation should often be the first port of call unless there are worries of bullying or violence from a former partner. Talking things through calmly and openly is always best, and it may help to have someone sit in to help focus those conversations on positive negotiation, whether it’s just the two of you, or with your children. Expert input can also ensure that any agreement over assets or children arrangements is fair for both sides.
Other ways to reach agreement include round table meetings, Collaborative law or arbitration. Given the pressures on the Court system it is now more important than ever that couples consider alternatives to Court which can result in a more amicable and more cost effective solution for everyone.
Whatever route is taken, seeking out the right help and support can make all the difference for couples, so they come through the divorce with a sense of a positive resolution, where everyone has an outcome that works for them and feels fair
*This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.