The Government needs to improve regional divorce centres before no-fault divorce becomes law, warns York solicitor

A leading family lawyer from Hethertons Solicitors has welcomed the proposition of no-fault divorce in UK law but has said that the state of divorce centres in England is “diabolical” and could get worse if the number of divorces increase.

Last month, Justice Secretary, David Gauke, announced that the Government would introduce proposals that would allow for the introduction of no-fault divorces – a landmark shift in the current system.

Under the current rules, separating couples must rely upon one of the five grounds for divorce, two of which rely upon blame being apportioned to one party, while the other three set a longer time limit on getting divorced of between two and five years depending on whether consent is given.

It has long been argued by family lawyers and couples that these arrangements cause greater animosity between divorcing couples, which can complicate proceedings and settlements.

Speaking about the proposed changes to the law, Sarah Hubery, a Senior Associate within Hethertons’ family law team, said: “The trauma of leaving a marriage can be extremely hard, and then to be faced with the knowledge that unless a party can accuse the other of their behaviour, or adultery, they must remain married causes further significant hardship.

“Understandably in such difficult times, parties just want to tie up their matrimonial affairs as peacefully as possible, but the present facts of divorce mean that one party is invariably upset, so the decision to introduce a system of no-fault divorce is significant.”

Sarah said that she couldn’t predict whether it would increase the rates of divorce in the UK or regionally, but said that it did create more certainty for couples, which meant that they can now divorce without worrying about any significant changes that occur between the time they agree to separate and divorce, which could affect financial matters.

“Couples often put their finances and relationships ‘on hold’ for two years until they can commence the formal divorce process.  The new system will, therefore, reduce costs without threats of ‘cross-petitions’ if a party proceeds on ‘their alleged’ behaviour,” she added.

“The majority of my initial divorce consultations begin with the statement ‘presently in England and Wales unless you have been separated for two years and you consent, you are unable to divorce unless one party is at fault’ and I feel like it is an apology on behalf of the Government, that here we are in 2019 and still you need to blame someone before you can begin the steps to leave your marriage.”

However, despite welcoming the proposed changes to divorce laws, Sarah said that the practical application of any future changes could be hampered by the speed at which divorces are handled presently.

“The state of the ‘divorce centres’ in England is diabolical and this situation needs resolving before the no-fault divorce commences.

“There seems to be little coverage of this issue and we are currently dealing with delays the likes of which I have never seen before in my years of practice.

“A divorce could take around four to six months to conclude a few years ago, and would most reasonably conclude within nine months, but it is now taking far longer.

“At present myself and many of my fellow peers are having to advise couples that, due to the delays, it could take 12 months or more.”

Sarah said she was already aware that East Midlands Divorce Centre is four months or more behind, and that the firm’s local divorce centre at Bradford is still dealing with paperwork sent to the court in late 2018.

She added: “The system is crumbling and we cannot continue with the divorce process in its current administrative state.”