Divorce law changes set to simplify the process

No-fault divorce is to be introduced into law in England and Wales when the Parliamentary timetable allows, following a decades-long campaign for change.

This significance of this should not be underestimated.

Our current laws require that if a couple want to get divorced they have to come up with examples of adultery or unreasonable behaviour, unless they are prepared to wait two years (if they both agree) or five years (where no agreement to a divorce petition is necessary).

The result has been unnecessary acrimony, bitterness and argument between couples about this technicality, with implications for how the divorce process plays out and how children are affected. 

See also: When can a will be challenged?

Early agreement

Sweeping away these requirements means that the focus will be taken off blame, with more emphasis being placed upon finding early agreement around the arrangements to be made for the children and a division of the finances. 

With Brexit dominating demands for parliamentary time, it is not possible to say when the changes will become law, but we know that the government is committed to the reform.

Financial support is changing

Another area of family law that is changing is the question of how much financial support a party, usually the wife, gets in the form of maintenance payments. 

English law has historically been very generous to the financially weaker party in terms of the amount and duration of maintenance awards. 

Recently, however, a series of cases looking at the duration of maintenance orders has cut back the length of time during which maintenance is payable, while looking to promote greater and earlier financial and economic independence.

Earning capacity

The debate centres on the extent to which both parties should be looking towards financial independence or whether (usually) the wife should get what she needs and then be expected to go out and earn her own income now.

Cases such as Waggott v Waggott (2018) have sounded a clear warning that wives should not now come to court expecting lifelong maintenance orders.

In that case Karen Waggott, the ex-wife of a successful businessman, attempted to increase her annual maintenance payment beyond the £175,000 a year sum she was due to receive for the rest of her life as part of a near-£10m divorce settlement.

However her husband cross-appealed on the term and level of maintenance and the Court of Appeal limited her maintenance to a three-year non-extendable term instead.

Jane Keir is a partner in the family and divorce team at law firm Kingsley Napley LLP