Justice Secretary David Gauke has confirmed he’ll bring in legislation for no-fault divorces as soon as there’s parliamentary time – to remove the need to allocate blame or wait years for divorce. This could bring an end to financial nightmares that are exacerbated by the current system.

Lawyers in general have welcomed the reform of divorce law which hasn’t changed since 1973, but some advisers have their reservations.

Aidan Jones OBE, chief executive at relationship support charity, Relate says: “This much-needed change to the law is good news for divorcing couples and particularly for any children involved.
“The outdated fault-based divorce system led parting couples to apportion blame, often resulting in increased animosity and making it harder for ex-partners to develop positive relationships as co-parents.

“As a large body of evidence shows, parental conflict is damaging to children’s well-being and chances in life, whether the parents are together or separated. It’s good that the government has listened and taken action on this, demonstrating commitment to reducing parental conflict.

“While divorce isn’t a decision that people tend to take lightly, we do support the extension of the minimum timeframe which will allow more time to reflect, give things another go if appropriate, and access support such as relationship counselling or mediation.

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown: “If you thought getting married was impossibly expensive, you should try getting divorced. Technically, you can untie the knot for under £1,000, but when you take two angry people, and pit them against one another, the legal bills alone can easily spiral to £30,000 or more.”

What’s changing?

The changes – expected to be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows – are: retaining the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce; replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown; retaining the two-stage legal process currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute; creating the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process; removing the ability to contest a divorce; introducing a minimum time-frame of six months, from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; six weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute).

Heather Owen, financial planner at Quilter Private Client Advisers said in Financial Planning Today:

“The new legislation aims to overhaul divorce law and reduce family conflict.

“But no matter how good-natured your divorce is or how simple it seems, the separation of jointly owned assets can be costly and complex and requires a rethink on estate planning, inheritance and tax planning.”

Kay Ingram, director of public policy at national IFA firm LEBC, said: “It is essential that couples agree upon the splitting of pensions with the court, known as a consent order, and that the pension sharing order is implemented before applying for the decree nisi.

“If the pension scheme member dies after the decree absolute, some pension schemes will pay out nothing, as their rules only require a lifetime pension to be paid to the widow/er or civil partner of the deceased member.

“Failing to implement a pension share before the decree absolute, which follows automatically six weeks after the decree nisi, could result in huge financial loss.”

Further reading on this topic:

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