New research briefing for the Commons Committee stage – 17th June

Here is the last in what we hope are a series of briefings for parliamentarians on the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill. This  briefing summarises the research evidence for each of the amendments put down in relation to the divorce/dissolution process:

  • Doubling the minimum period from six months to one year (Amendment 1)
  • Defining the start of proceedings (Amendments 2 & 4)
  • Bar on financial provision proceedings (Amendments 3 & 5)
  • Funding for marriage support services (NC1 & Amendment 7)
  • Reporting on the impact of law reform (NC2)
  • Retention of fault with one year (with consent) and five years separation (NC3)

The conclusion is that none of the amendments are consistent with the research evidence.

With a little luck, and based on the overwhelming support for the Bill at Second Reading (and in the Lords before that), we might soon have a new divorce law that is fit for the 21st century and that would support families going through a difficult transition, rather than causing unnecessary conflict.


Full steam ahead for the Divorce Bill after Second Reading

To date, the Divorce Bill has proceeded unamended through both Houses and without any votes. It was something of a surprise, therefore, that there was a division called for the Bill’s Second Reading in the Commons on 8th June. There has been a small but vocal group of opponents of the Bill at each stage in the Commons and the Lords, but we have always suspected that their numbers were very small. And so it proved. The Commons voted that the Bill be read a second time by 231 votes to 16, a resounding vote of confidence in reform.

There were some really impressive and thoughtful speeches from front and back benches and from both sides of the chamber. It was great to hear references to the Finding Fault research. I was also struck by the number of MPs who talked about their own personal experiences of divorce and how the law had made it more difficult than it needed to be, all of which resonated with our research findings and the experiences of many practitioners.

The opponents of the Bill continue to claim that reform will make divorce ‘easier’ or ‘too easy’ and so undermine marriage. But the evidence is overwhelming that the current law doesn’t protect marriage, it just makes the divorce process more difficult. As Resolution say, the aim is to make the process kinder, not easier. MoJ estimate, in any case, that 80% of divorces are likely to take longer under the new six month waiting process, but without the needless acrimony and game-playing.

So, onto committee stage next. All the signals are that this could be soon with Report/Third Reading following quickly after that. Fault has been a central part of the divorce law in England & Wales since 1660. That could finally be about to change.

Second Reading date announced for the Divorce Bill – and two new briefings

The Bill will have its Second Reading in the Commons on Monday 8th June, despite the disruption to the parliamentary timetable caused by Covid-19.

So far the Bill has sailed through each stage of the Commons (in 2019 before prorogation) and then the Lords in early 2020. The only change that has been made to the original Bill is a concession made by Lord Keen to require parliamentary approval before the use of any Henry VIII power to shorten the waiting period. Otherwise the Bill has enjoyed cross-party support at all stages and is backed enthusiastically by relationship organisations, family justice professionals, the judiciary and academics.

After fifty years of waiting, it does seem that we might finally be getting a kinder and fairer divorce law that will help families through a difficult time, not make things worse.

The new Finding Fault briefing for the Second Reading debate is available here. There’s also an excellent new briefing from Resolution here.