1st July 2018

Minimising distress in divorce

Currently, unless a couple have been separated for five years or more (reduced to two years if they agree), they can only get divorced if the Petitioner can establish that the Respondent has either committed adultery or has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with him/her. This means that unless the Respondent agrees that there has been adultery (their agreement is necessary because without it, producing evidence of adultery is a particularly distressing exercise for all concerned!) or unless they are prepared to wait for two years, a divorce can only proceed on the basis of “unreasonable behaviour”.

Whilst there will always be cases where one party’s behaviour has clearly been unreasonable and has directly led to the breakdown of the marriage, there are many couples who recognise that their marriage has come to an end, but who feel that neither person is solely to blame and who therefore wish to deal with a divorce with as little acrimony as possible. It often comes as an unwelcome surprise to these couples, to learn that it is not enough just to agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and that one of them effectively has to be blamed for it. In other cases, where one party has decided the marriage is over, the other party can find themselves distraught and having to make the difficult choice of either having to issue a divorce petition, when the last thing they want is for their marriage to end, or to face becoming the Respondent to an unreasonable behaviour petition!

The good news is that a change in the law to allow a divorce to proceed by agreement in the absence of any element of blame, is looking increasingly likely. However we are not there yet and until then, unless handled carefully by experienced family lawyers, the requirement to come up with examples of behaviour can risk damaging fragile relationships at a time when it is crucial that any remaining good will is preserved.

If you would like to discuss divorce or separation, the family team at Buss Murton offers a free initial 30-minute meeting, to allow you to find out about your options. Please contact our team secretary Khaila Reid on T: 01892 502 335 or E: kreid@bussmurton.co.uk.

This article was first published in the September issue of the Wealden Times. www.wealdentimes.co.uk.