Gemma Hope, family law solicitor, collaborative lawyer and mediator, explores the likely issues, trends and themes that are set to shape year ahead for family law professionals and couples who are separating or divorcing.
The current divorce process requires many people to blame their spouse on their divorce petition. As I have outlined in an earlier blog on no-fault divorce, this is unnecessary and can introduce or increase conflict.
The previous parliament gave overwhelming support to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which would have removed this ‘blame’ requirement.
The new parliament have confirmed that they will continue to support the Bill and it has been reintroduced so hopefully in the not too distant future England and Wales will have a divorce process fit for modern society, where separating couples are helped to resolve their differences as amicably as possible without having to sling mud at each other.
With this potential change in the law on the cards many spouses may choose to delay divorce and wait for the arrival of a no-fault divorce process due to the pain and suffering not to mention the time and costs it could save. However, the reality is it is likely to take at least another 12-18 months before the change in the law will be up and running.
Whilst there maybe an initial drop and then increase following an introduction of no-fault divorce it is not anticipated that it would have any long-term effect on divorce rates. A team of researchers in a report for the Nuffield Foundation found that in England and Wales the element of fault does not deter divorce, in that those wishing to divorce just look to use whichever grounds are available to do it as quickly and as easily as possible.
Protection for victims of domestic abuse
The previous Domestic Abuse Bill would have, among other measures, banned the direct cross-examination of domestic abuse victims in family proceedings by alleged perpetrators in many cases.
A ban on cross-examination of victims of abuse may help some feel safer and therefore more able to take steps to separate from their partner rather than remain in an abusive relationship.
However, there is concern that the Bill does not go far enough, for instance it doesn’t extend special protection measures for domestic abuse victims in the criminal courts (such as separate entrances and exits, waiting rooms, screens and video links) to family courts so some people may feel as though they have to stay trapped in an abusive relationship if they feel the alternative could result in them ending up being embroiled in a distressing court process.
Legal protection for cohabiting couples at the end of their relationship
There has over recent years been a reduction in divorce rates, this coincides with the reduction in marriages and the significant increase in cohabiting couples. This does not look like it is set to change.
Unmarried couples living together are the fastest growing family type in the UK, making up nearly one in four families. Yet nearly half of all adults mistakenly think that couples acquire ‘common law’ rights after living together for a certain amount of time or having children together.
Given this increase in how people are structuring their relationships Resolution, a national body for family law practitioners, is calling for a change in the law so that cohabiting couples have at least some basic legal protection if their relationship breaks down.
In 2019 we took part in Resolution’s Cohabitation Awareness Week, and compiled a number of resources and articles exploring the legal rights and issues impacting unmarried couples who live together. View the resources here: https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/cohabitation-awareness-week-2019/
Arguing couples who may be British nationals could be more likely fall out due to polarised views which could cause their relationship to breakdown. Relationships where one spouse is an EU national who, despite having lived here for years, worked here, paid tax and had children here, are being made to apply for settled status may no longer want to remain living in a country where the government chides them for treating the UK as if it’s part of their own country. Such relationships, particularly if they are under pressure already, may see Brexit as the final straw to make the EU national want to up sticks and leave. Brexit tensions could therefore have some influence on divorce rates.
For further information, or to book a confidential consultation with one of our family law experts, please contact us.