Re-introduction of two bills set to change family law
Following the general election in December 2019, the newly formed government has tabled the re-introduction of two Bills regarding family law policy which were halted last year. These are the Domestic Abuse Bill and Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill.
The main elements of the Domestic Abuse Bill are:
- To create a statutory definition of domestic abuse, emphasising that domestic abuse is not just physical or sexual violence, but can also involve emotional, coercive or controlling, and economic abuse
- To establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner who will stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of local authorities, the justice system and other statutory agencies and hold them to account in tackling domestic abuse
- To create a Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and a Domestic Abuse Protection Order. These will place restrictions and other requirements on perpetrators in order to better protect victims
- Tier one local authorities in England (County Councils, Metropolitan and Unitary Authorities, the Greater London Authority) will be required to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation
- To create a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts (for example, to enable them to give evidence via a video link)
- To stop perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts
The objectives of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill include:
- To change the way spouses prove to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The current requirement to make an allegation about the other spouse’s conduct or demonstrate a period of separation will be abolished and instead one or both spouses can state that the marriage has irretrievably broken down
- Changing some family law terminology to make it less legalistic. For example, Decree Nisi (the court granting permission to divorce) will be known as a conditional order and Decree Absolute will be known as a final order
- Introducing a new minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and applying for the conditional order (the six-week period between conditional and final order will remain)
- Introducing a new option for a joint application in cases where the decision to divorce is a mutual one
It is hoped that both Bills will pass through both the House of Commons and House of Lords quickly as there is cross-party support for both of these Bills.
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.