New 'no-fault divorce' to reduce emotional and financial headaches when marriages end announced

9 April 2019

Divorcing couples will no longer have to blame one another for the breakdown of their marriage or face a lengthy wait before they can legally separate.

Justice secretary David Gauke has proposed that under a new divorce system, so-called 'no-fault' divorce, individuals will be able to give their partner notice of an intention to divorce and be given a minimum six months for the process to take place.

Partners will no longer have the ability to contest the divorce and couples will even be able to make joint applications for divorce.

Under current laws (the 1973 Matrimonial Act) couples must either seek a divorce on the grounds of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or a two- year separation. 

If one party doesn’t agree to the divorce the couple must be separated for five years before the marriage can legally end.

Mr Gauke says: “Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances. While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.

“So, I have listened to calls for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame game for good.”

The legislation giving couples the right to a ‘no-fault’ divorce will be introduced "as soon as parliamentary time allows." 

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown welcomes the announcement: "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.”

“By setting couples against one another in the blame game, it creates a needlessly confrontational approach. This not only causes enormous distress for the couple and any children, the current system could almost have been designed to create needless financial dramas.”

“Finding fault can raise such bitterness that both people involved seek revenge throughout the rest of the process – including the financial settlement.  Of course, the change won’t stop already-furious spouses pledging to take one another to the cleaners, but it means there’s less risk of relatively amicable divorcing couples tipping over into vindictive fury.”

Divorce can wreak financial havok

Even when couples amicably separate the time limits required before they can divorce can still wreak financial havoc.

Ms Coles adds: “In many cases it’s impossible to buy another property until the divorce, because both people are still named on the mortgage of the family home. In others, they can’t afford to live separately until after the divorce, so they have to spend two unhappy years living together - building resentment.

“If they can afford to live separately, and buy another property, meanwhile, they run into other financial obstacles. If they buy another property before the divorce, it will be treated as a second home – with additional stamp duty.

If they then get divorced and the purchaser no longer owns any of the old family home within 36 months, the stamp duty will be refunded, but it puts divorcing couples on the clock, and can create cash flow issues.”

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