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MPs to debate shake-up of divorce laws to end break-up ‘blame game’ - UK

By Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor

Legislation to overhaul divorce laws aimed at taking some of the pain out of marriage break-ups is set to clear its first Commons hurdle.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will be debated at second reading by MPs on Monday after it completed its House of Lords stages in March.

The Government has said it is time to end “the blame game” faced by couples, with reform of the existing fault-based system.

But the proposed law change has drawn criticism from church leaders, who have argued that it undermines marriage and will increase the already high divorce rate.

Some Conservative MPs are reportedly prepared to rebel against the legislation, but with Labour backing it is likely to be approved at second reading.

Last week, The Telegraph said Sir Edward Leigh, Fiona Bruce and Sir John Hayes had written to 200 fellow Tories saying they were concerned that the reforms would lead to an “immediate spike in divorce rates”.

Currently in England and Wales, unless someone can prove there was adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without their spouse’s agreement is to live apart for five years.

The legislation will keep “irretrievable breakdown” of a marriage as the sole grounds for divorce.

But rather than having to provide evidence relating to behaviour or separation, divorcing spouses will only be required to make a statement that the marriage has broken down.

It will also be possible for couples to make joint divorce applications, alongside the current option for one party to initiate the process.

Ministers have said the decision to introduce a “no-fault” divorce is designed to take “the legal sting” out of what can often be a highly stressful experience.

The ability of a husband or wife to contest a divorce – used in fewer than 2% of cases – will be scrapped under the shake-up.

The Bill will introduce a six-month minimum period that must elapse between the lodging of a petition to the divorce being made final.

Parallel changes will be made to the law governing the dissolution of a civil partnership.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We will always uphold the institution of marriage. But when divorce cannot be avoided, the law must not create conflict between couples that so often harms the children involved.

“Our reforms remove the needless ‘blame game’, while ensuring there is a minimum six-month time frame to allow for reflection and the opportunity to turn back.”

James Brown, managing partner at Hall Brown Family Law, described the proposals as a “sensible step in the right direction”.

He said: “I don’t believe that the changes will necessarily prompt a rush of couples wanting to divorce but it will enable those individuals who have concluded that they have no future together to resolve their differences more amicably and that’s no bad thing, especially in situations which involve children too.”