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.

Divorce Bill flies through committee stage

The Bill was scheduled for two days in committee, but went through in less than one, with no amendments. I was able to give oral evidence to the committee about the Finding Fault research, alongside Rights of Women, Relate, Resolution and the Law Society. The transcript of the morning oral evidence session and the committee’s afternoon session is here.

Now onwards to the Report stage asap. Everyone is conscious that this is a unique window of opportunity to get this long overdue reform passed, but that the political uncertainty means that speed is essential.

Tripped across Parliament Square after the evidence session to have coffee in the Supreme Court cafe with Matt Bryant and Nigel Shepherd from Resolution. Fitting given Lady Hale’s key role in the 1990 Law Commission report that led to no-fault divorce reform of the Family Law Act 1996.



Divorce bill Second Reading

Managed to get to watch the Second Reading on the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, with thanks to Bambos Charalambous MP. There was overwhelming support for the Bill, including very positive speeches from the government front bench (Lord Chancellor David Gauke, Minister Paul Maynard), the Labour (Richard Burgon, Yasmin Qureshi) and Liberal Democrat front benches (Wera Hobhouse) and current chair of the Justice Committee (Bob Neill). All the speeches are here

Great to see Bob Neill reading our Finding Fault briefing on the Bill (back row, smart suit!)

Straight onto Committee stage now.



Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill

Govt now moving quickly on reform of the divorce law. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has been introduced by Lord Chancellor David Gauke. It is a simple and pragmatic reform – removing the problematic five facts and replacing them with a declaration of irretrievable breakdown and a minimum six month waiting period and with no defence. All proposals  are entirely in line with the evidence base from the Finding Fault and No Contest reports and our review of divorce law in similar notification or separation jurisdictions – see http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/findingfault/findings-and-outputs/.

Govt produces response to divorce law consultation

Breaking: government publishes its response to the Reducing Family Conflict consultation. The plans are largely unchanged – replacing the fault and separation grounds with a notification process, joint or sole applications and no defence other than jurisdiction, coercion etc. Looking forward to see a government Bill and much needed reform of a fifty year old law that is no longer fit for purpose. Fantastic to have a Lord Chancellor who has looked at the research evidence and produced a pragmatic proposal that will remove the problems whilst retaining what works.

BREAKING: Government issues consultation on divorce law reform

It is only a few months since Baroness Butler-Sloss introduced her private member’s call calling for a government review of the ground for divorce and the government have introduced a consultation document. Reducing Family Conflict draws heavily on the 1990 Law Commission and our more recent Finding Fault research to make the case why reform of the current mixed fault and separation regime is needed. It includes a great foreword from the Lord Chancellor David Gauke:

When I became Justice Secretary this year, I was able to take a deeper look at the issue of divorce, and particularly at the legal process that can incentivise one party to make allegations about the other’s conduct. What is clear is that this requirement serves no public interest. It needlessly rakes up the past to justify the legal ending of a relationship that is no longer a beneficial and functioning one. At worst, these allegations can pit one parent against the other. I am deeply concerned that this can be especially damaging for children. 

The proposal is to replace the five facts (including adultery and behaviour) to evidence irretrievable breakdown with a statement from the parties followed by a waiting period of about six months. As irretrievable breakdown would be established by a declaration by one – or both – parties, there would be no scope for defence. It also references our No Contest report on how the process of defending can be used to perpetuate coercive control.

The consultation closes on 10th December


Baroness Butler-Sloss Private Member’s Bill

Baroness Butler-Sloss has introduced the Divorce (etc.) Law Review Bill in the House of Lords. The Bill places a duty on the Lord Chancellor to review the law on the ground for divorce and civil partnership dissolution in England & Wales and to report to parliament. The review must include consideration of a replacement scheme set out in a Schedule. That scheme would replace the much-criticised five facts (adultery, behaviour, desertion, two year’s separation with consent, five year’s separation) with a fair and transparent notification scheme.

The Bill was drafted by a retired parliamentary drafter with support from the Nuffield Foundation as an extension of the Finding Fault research.

The Bill and Explanatory Notes are available on the Bill’s parliamentary homepage.