The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, first introduced into Parliament in June 2019 after a public consultation – and which fell at the Dissolution – was reintroduced in the House of Lords on 7 January. Its purpose is to amend the law of England and Wales so as to allow one spouse, or the couple jointly, to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown – in effect, ‘no-fault’ divorce. It will also prevent one partner contesting a divorce if the other wants one – which, the Government says, has in some cases allowed domestic abusers to exercise further coercive control over their victims. In short, it should prevent a reoccurrence of the situation in Owens v Owens  UKSC 41.
Specifically, the Bill will:
- replace the current requirement to evidence either a conduct or separation ‘fact’ with the provision of a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (couples can opt to make this a joint statement);
- remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce, as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down; and
- introduce a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a conditional order of divorce may be made, allowing greater opportunity for couples to agree on practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible and divorce is inevitable.
Parallel changes will be made to the law governing the dissolution of a civil partnership which broadly mirrors the legal process for obtaining a divorce.
The proposed legislation will not cover other areas of matrimonial law such as financial provision. Financial provision on divorce is handled in separate proceedings and the court has wide discretion to provide for future financial needs.
The documentation relating to the Bill is here. The Government published its response to the public consultation, Reducing Family Conflict: reform of the legal requirements for divorce, on 9 April 2019. The reintroduction of the Bill was welcomed by Relate.