Insights

Civil partnership reform sneaks through whilst “no fault divorce” is delayed as the country heads for a general election

12/11/2019

Georgina McCluskey comments on recent developments in family law

Good news for mixed-sex couples wanting a civil partnership

In one of its last acts before Parliament was dissolved last week, the House of Lords took the necessary steps to ensure that the Civil Partnerships, Marriage and Death Acts would be implemented this year.

This means that, from New Year’s Eve, mixed-sex couples will be able to enter into civil partnerships.  This comes following a ruling by the Supreme Court last year which said that the restriction of civil partnerships to same-sex couples was a breach of human rights.

This is welcome news, particularly for heterosexual couples who want the legal security provided by a civil partnership, but do not want to be married, with the connotations that may have.

“No-fault divorce” put on ice.  

However, there is wide-spread disappointment amongst family law practitioners as other, long overdue, reforms have been side-lined whilst politicians prepare for the forthcoming general election.

Back in April, I reported that the government had announced that the widely anticipated “no fault divorce” was going to be introduced. (See News post here). At that time, it had been hoped that these long-awaited changes could be introduced in as little as 3 months.

That, it is now clear, was wishful thinking.

There has long been pressure for reform to our current system, under which parties can only divorce on the basis that their marriage has broken down irretrievably as evidenced by one of 5 facts. If a long period of separation cannot be proven, then the most frequently used facts involve an element of blame.  It is also open for one party to defend the divorce, which increases costs and tensions from the outset.

The campaign for reform ramped up following the case of Tini Owens who was forced to remain married to her husband until next year as he did not consent to a divorce, and the Court did not find that her reasons for the divorce were sufficient.

Unfortunately, The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, under which one party will not be able to stop the divorce if the other has initiated it, and under which there would be no element of blame, did not complete its passage through parliament before it was dissolved.

It is hoped that this will be soon addressed by whichever party wins the election, but there will undoubtedly be further delay.

Another casualty of the election was the Domestic Abuse Bill which would have broadened the definition of domestic abuse and meant that complainants could not be cross examined by their allegedly abusive partners in family court proceedings.

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