Government have announced the publication today of a Bill to amend the Matrimonial Causes Act 1962 providing for the following:

• non-fault divorces

• divorce petitions after the first year of marriage

• extension of the cooling off period between the provisional and final divorce pronouncements from 6 weeks to 6 months

• financial relief applications following an overseas divorce.

The Bill keeps the ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’ as the sole ground for divorce; however, the proposed law will no longer require this ground to be supported by allegations against a spouse, including, of adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. The minimum period of marriage required prior to the commencement of divorce proceedings is reduced from three years to one year. The Bill also provides for a divorce to proceed without the need for a period of separation prior to the petition for divorce, or for consent to the divorce from the other party. Lastly, the Bill makes provision for financial relief proceedings to be brought in certain circumstances following an overseas divorce.

Crucially, it is often the children in a marriage who tend to suffer from the consequences of what can at times be a highly charged and hostile process. The Government says it intends to promote a more sensitive post-divorce environment, which will benefit both the couple and the children, by ending the often-witnessed culture of blame. Further, the Government also wants to tackle the significant impact that contested divorces can have on those who have suffered domestic abuse at the hands of their spouse.

To prepare for the eventuality that the Bill is passed by Parliament, the Ministry of Justice is working with the Honourable the Chief Justice for the publication of amended rules for the seamless operation of these new provisions.

The Minister for Health, Care and Justice, the Hon. Neil F. Costa MP stated: “It brings me great satisfaction to have published this Bill. Divorces are acrimonious enough to have to bring blame into the equation. This Bill seeks to bring about as harmonious a process of separation as possible. This is especially important to minimise stress and hostility, during what can be some of the most difficult periods in the lives of families and children, in particular. Whilst the Government continues to support the institution of marriage, the publishing of this Bill has demonstrated its equal steadfast commitment to address the real problems divorcing families face.”