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No-fault divorce – what’s changed and is it better?

Long called-for changes to divorce laws finally come into effect on 6 April this year. And now, two months on, we asked top family lawyer Claire O'Flinn if all of the changes are for the better.

Long called-for changes to divorce laws finally come into effect on 6 April this year. But, two months on, we asked top family lawyer Claire O’Flinn if the changes are an improvement.

The introduction of no-fault divorce in this country has been long awaited and hard fought by the divorce community, but as top family lawyer and mediator Claire O’Flinn writes, divorce is complex – and the changes will not be welcomed by all divorcing couples.

One of the major differences with the new system is that couples can make the application (it’s no longer called a petition) on either a sole or a joint basis.  Previously, the only option was for one spouse to divorce the other.

For some people, applying together is a comfortable way to bring their marriage to an end and reflects exactly what they want to achieve.  

But I have also seen cases where having this option available has provoked an unhappy and expensive exchange about whether the application should be made by one spouse or both. It was suggested that to complete it solely felt like one person was blaming the other.  But also, that by applying jointly, it suggested that both people were responsible for the marriage breakdown, when in fact the husband was having an affair.

So what to do?

It is important to remember that solicitors still have a part to play in helping clients reach agreements and solutions.  It is only the administrative form which has changed, not the complex human emotions involved when a relationship ends.  

The reasons for the breakdown of the marriage can still be addressed in solicitor letters, if it is important for you to do so.  Blame isn’t helpful in reaching agreements but the acknowledgement of what has happened can be enormously powerful. In my experience, the lack of acknowledgment actually makes matters worse.  I am not talking about apologies or remorse – although an element of insight is always welcomed – but acceptance of what has happened is often necessary.

Misunderstandings

Some people assume that because the new divorce applications offer a joint approach, the financial agreements must also be through joint mediation or joint representation – rather than each spouse taking their own legal advice. That is not the case.  Whilst mediation can be a tremendous medium for reaching lasting agreements – and when it works, boy, does it work – the new divorce process does not mean that taking your own legal advice is a thing of the past.  

A good divorce lawyer will steer you away from mud-slinging acrimony because it simply isn’t worth it, surely your money is better spent on your new life?  But when you are divorcing a spouse and you cannot see eye to eye, or who you don’t like or, even, sadly with whom you may have been in an abusive relationship with, engaging a solicitor who is in your camp and will fight for you is not only important but is integral to you securing the financial settlement you deserve.  

And let’s not forget that abuse can take on many faces.  It can be psychological, financial and emotional as well as physical or sexual.  If you have experienced any of these, having your own solicitor is exactly what you need because you need to break the cycle of the bully.

‘Knowledge is key’ is a phrase I often tell my clients in our first meeting because to know what your options are is the only way to forge your path to happiness.  If we as divorce specialists cannot educate you as divorcing clients on your options, then we are not doing our job.  

The world will not be seeing the first final orders (Decree Absolutes) until at least October and so the learning curve will remain for a good while yet, however if the new process is making your head buzz with questions or you are curious to start the process, then please do ask those questions (and no, there are never any silly questions, they are all valid and need answering!)

keystonelaw.com

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