I am pleased to lay before Parliament “Reducing Family Conflict: Reform of the Legal Requirements for Divorce”, the Government response to the consultation on reform of this important area of family law. The full public consultation ran from 15 September to 10 December last year and sought views on the Government’s proposals to revise the process for obtaining a divorce to minimise acrimony during the legal process and reduce the potential for ongoing conflict afterwards. I am grateful for the insight and experience shared by people in providing evidence of the real-life difficulties that can arise from the current law, particularly how it incentivises focusing on the past to make allegations that can unnecessarily pit one spouse against the other. That is why we are proposing to remove the legal requirement to make allegations about spousal conduct or to have lived separately for up to five years.
Families are the bedrock of society, and marriage has long proved its vital importance to family stability. The Government will always support marriage, and we want to ensure that the system as far as possible supports couples to remain married. In revising the legal process for divorce, we have also sought to maximise the opportunity for couples to reconcile if they can, by introducing a minimum period before the court grants the decree of divorce. Divorce should continue to be a considered decision. We heard from respondents to the consultation that couples often feel divorced when the court grants the provisional decree of divorce. Beginning the minimum period before this point is therefore key to allowing for both meaningful reflection and an opportunity to turn back.
When, sadly, a marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down, continuing in it can be damaging for the couple and for any children they have, as well as undermining the institution of marriage itself which can work only if both parties are committed to it. It is vital that the law recognises this and, where divorce is inevitable, allows people to move on in as constructive a way as possible. The ability to have a positive rapport and co-operate after separation is particularly crucial for parents, as children’s outcomes are improved by co-operative parenting. Removing from the legal process for divorce those elements which can fuel long-lasting conflict between parents will therefore support better outcomes for children. Where, despite reflection, divorce cannot be avoided the law should do all it can to reduce conflict and encourage good relations as couples move on to reach agreement about practical arrangements for the future.
The Government will therefore bring forward proposals to deal with the legal aspects of divorce or civil partnership dissolution as sensitively as possible. Divorce is of great social significance but for those involved it is also an intensely personal matter. Unfortunately, it affects the lives of too many families. The current law does little to reduce conflict when divorce occurs. It urgently needs reform to encourage a more conciliatory and constructive approach to undoing a marriage, and to ensure better outcomes for all those involved, and especially for children.
The Government have today set out their proposals for reform. We intend to bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.