Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [HL]: Briefing for Lords Stages

This House of Lords Library Briefing has been prepared in advance of the second reading in the House of Lords of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill on 5 February 2020.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [HL] would change the legal requirements for married couples to obtain a divorce or judicial separation and for civil partners to dissolve their civil partnership or obtain a separation. The Government has said that the purpose of the bill is to “remove issues that create conflict” in the divorce process. It stated the legislation would ensure the decision to divorce is a “considered one”. It has argued that it will “reduce family conflict” and “minimise” the impact of divorce on children.

In summary, the provisions in the bill would:

  • Introduce a new option of a joint application to the court to initiate proceedings where the decision to divorce is mutual.
  • Replace the requirement to provide evidence of fault or separation with a notification process: a statement from the applicant(s) of irretrievable breakdown.
  • Remove the possibility to contest the decision to divorce, as the statement would be taken as conclusive evidence of irretrievable breakdown.
  • Introduce a minimum overall timeframe of 26 weeks into the divorce process: a new period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and confirmation the application can progress to a conditional order (there is currently no minimum period); and retain the current minimum timeframe of six weeks between the conditional order (decree nisi) and the final order (decree absolute).
  • Enable the Lord Chancellor to adjust the time periods by order, as long as the total period does not exceed 26 weeks.
  • Update terminology. For instance, ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’ would be replaced with the terms ‘conditional order’ and ‘final order’ respectively. The term ‘petitioner’ would be replaced with ‘applicant’.
  • The law relating to judicial separation, and to dissolution of civil partnership and separation of civil partners, would be changed in a similar way.
  • The main provisions of the bill extend and apply to England and Wales only.