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Marriage and Family

Divorce Bill halted as new stats reveal impact of online divorce petitions

12 September 2019

It has been all but confirmed by the Government that the Divorce Bill introduced earlier this year has fallen as a result of Parliament being prorogued.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill would have removed fault as a part of divorce, essentially introducing no-reason divorce where one spouse could have unilaterally ended their marriage without having to provide a reason.

John Hyde, deputy news editor for the Law Society Gazette, reported,‘Had it confirmed that neither the Domestic Abuse Bill nor the Divorce Bill were subject to a last-minute carry-over motion. Both will have to be started from scratch if they are brought back in the next parliament.’

This appears to have been confirmed by David Gauke, the former Lord Chancellor who introduced the Bill, who tweeted, ‘These reforms could have been legislated for this autumn. Now that Parliament has been suspended for 5 weeks and the Bill has been dropped, that won’t happen.’

The end of the bill?

The Government had been rushing ahead with the Bill, with seemingly little desire from most MPs to scrutinise the legislation. CARE was very concerned that the legislation was badly drafted and would have made divorce easier, as well as undermining marriage.

This sadly might not be the end for these proposals, as they could be brought back in the next session of Parliament. This break in the legislation should, however, provide the Government with breathing space to reconsider how best to support married couples to stay together, rather than making it easier for them to split up as this Bill would have done.

New stats reveal online divorce process is changing behaviour

Since April 2018 it has been possible to start divorce proceedings online. Given the relative ease of applying for divorce online, compared to the more laborious process of applying through the courts, the International Family Law Group (IFLG) requested information from the Ministry of Justice aimed at answering the question ‘Would this mean more premature petitions, perhaps issued online after a marital argument and therefore not proceeding to a final divorce once the couple had made up?’

The data seems to suggest that this is the case and that being able to apply for divorce online is changing behaviour and attitudes, with a possible increase of premature petitions lodged after less reflection, perhaps as a marital cry for help. As the IFLG notes, ‘These are the real concerns behind these statistics.’

The IFLG press release damningly concludes, ‘It certainly cannot be said that a marriage has broken down irretrievably on the lodging of a divorce petition if as many as 11% or more are not even acknowledged by a respondent, let alone proceed to a decree of divorce.’

An opportunity for reflection

The Government would do well to review the behavioural impacts of moving the divorce process online. It is clear that making divorce easier is not a neutral move as is often claimed. It has an impact on married couples in difficulty, a point that the Government need to remember as they reflect on whether to bring back the Divorce Bill in the next session of Parliament.

Jonathan Williams is CARE's Family Policy Officer

Marriage

Marriage and Family

Strong families are foundational to a healthy society. Marriages too are vital, representing the gold standard of commitment. CARE is committed to upholding both.

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