New Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill motoring through Parliament
On 28 June we reported on how changes to the divorce laws in England and Wales have begun. There has been rapid progression with the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill having passed through its second reading in the House of Commons and gone through the Committee stage. No amendments to the wording of the Bill have been proposed yet and the Bill is now due to have its report stage and third reading on a date to be announced. If there are to be any amendments these will be made to the Bill at the report stage.
The Law Society has made its opinion known and published its written evidence on some key changes it would like to see to the wording of the Bill. The Law Society believes there are still some important details that need to be addressed to ensure that the Bill is clear, fair and accessible to those who need to use it. In the Law Society’s opinion, the key areas requiring amendment are:
- Where a petition is being filed by only one party, the period of notice (how long the couple must wait before they can apply for the final decree) should be from the date of service of the papers on the respondent.
- The two-stage decree is removed and replaced with a single decree after the applicant/respondent or both confirm intention to proceed with divorce application.
- No final order (decree absolute) should be granted until a financial order has been made, for example a Form A issued , unless by consent of the parties or the paying party can show there is no financial risk to the respondent/applicant.
Point 3 is very crucial as currently there are still a number of people who believe that once they are divorced, their ex-spouse no longer has any claim on their assets. This is not the case as a separate financial order is required in order to deal with claims each spouse has against the other. If the Bill were amended as the Law Society suggests, this could help to avoid cases where parties try to come back years after a divorce for financial support.
The Law Society also believes that the current £550 court fee for divorce applications adds an extra financial hurdle to what is already a costly process for many separating couples and they hope the Government will see fit to reduce the fee, especially as there is now a push for the paperwork to be completed online.
We wait to see whether any of these recommendations and amendments are made to the Bill at the next report stage.
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.