No Fault Divorce Bill primed for second reading in January 2016

There has been much debate in recent times as to whether now could be the right time for the introduction of no fault divorce in UK law. Regardless, it has seemingly come another step closer to reality with the news that the No Fault Divorce Bill sponsored by Conservative MP Richard Bacon will receive a second reading on 22nd January 2016, after MPs did not have the opportunity to debate a second reading on 4th December 2015.

The progress of the No Fault Divorce Bill can be traced back to Bacon’s instigation of the debate of a 10-minute motion on 13th October. This motion was, “That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the dissolution of a marriage or civil partnership when each party has separately made a declaration that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down without a requirement by either party to satisfy the court of any other facts; and for connected purposes”.

The motion passed, such news being welcomed by campaigners who have long regarded existing divorce law as overly complicated, bureaucratic and expensive. Bacon outlined in his speech that the No Fault Divorce Bill would operate by adding a sixth ‘fact’ by which irretrievable breakdown could be proved, entailing the declaration of irretrievable breakdown by both parties and a one-year cooling off period prior to the making of decree absolute.

Under these proposals, the availability of no fault divorce would depend on divorce being agreed upon, which has caused some to ask whether immediate no-fault divorce should also be accessible on a unilateral basis. Such enquirers have included the national organisation of family lawyers Resolution, which has – in its Manifesto for Family Law published earlier in 2015 – called for all fault-based divorce to be abolished. The body has even suggested a potential procedure consisting of one or both parties giving notice of irretrievable breakdown, followed by a six-month consideration period and then the finalisation of the divorce, should this be sought by one or both parties.

Bacon’s Bill has not been without its critics, some suggesting that the retention of the option of fault-based divorce would not constitute significant modernisation of what is widely agreed to be a greatly outdated current divorce law. Nonetheless, it has still been hailed as an important step forward by many observers, including Resolution chair Jo Edwards, who commented: “We are pleased to see Richard Bacon’s Bill having a second reading. If MPs are serious about reducing family conflict and the trauma that can be caused by divorce, I would urge them to support the bill as a welcome step towards removing the requirement of fault from divorce.”

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