Divorce Law in 2018 – What did we learn?
2019 is well under way so I thought I would reflect on some of the important events that occurred in Divorce law during the course of 2018.
The Divorce Day Myth
The year began with ‘Divorce Day’ in January, a myth perpetuated by the media. Although many family lawyers have busy times where demand is a little higher than normal (usually January and September) there is no mad rush to get divorced in the New Year. Most of the clients I advise do not decide to get divorced because it’s a Monday or because it’s the New Year. They have usually been considering their situation for some time and have simply delayed taking action before Christmas to avoid spoiling an otherwise happy time.
Later in January came the release of the latest statistics concerning Divorce. Some of the key findings were:
- About 42% of marriages will end in divorce and around half of those divorces will be in the first 10 years of marriage.
- The average age at divorce was 46.1 years for men and 43.7 years for women.
- Divorce rates were highest among men aged 45 to 49 and among women aged 30 to 39. This reflects the fact that women generally marry men older than themselves.
- The majority of divorces in 2016 were petitioned by the wife (61%).
- The most common ground for divorce was unreasonable behavior, with 36% of all husbands and 51% of all wives petitioning for divorce on these grounds.
These figures do not include divorce of same sex marriages.
Defining ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’ on grounds for Divorce
In May the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, heard an appeal in the Divorce case of Owens v Owenswhere a wife was attempting to divorce her husband on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour in circumstances where the lower court had refused to allow the divorce to go ahead. Mr Owens opposed the divorce and the court was asked to decide what amounts to unreasonable behaviour for the purposes of proving the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. When the judgement was decided, the court declined the wife's appeal, meaning the parties must remain married. The court appeared to reach their decision somewhat reluctantly and invited Parliament to consider changing the law.
Civil Partnerships for Heterosexual Couples
In June, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan won their legal bid for the right to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage. The court decided that the current law is "incompatible" with human rights laws on discrimination and the right to a private and family life. Same-sex couples have two options, civil partnerships and civil marriages, whereas heterosexual partners have only one option, marriage. Prime Minister Theresa May officially announced on 2 October 2018 that civil partnerships will be extended to heterosexual couples.
Financial mis-management consequences
In July Supreme Court ruled that a divorced husband should not have to increase payments to his ex-wife after she mismanaged her finances following their split.
Mrs Mills had applied to the court to increase the periodical payments (maintenance) her husband had been ordered to pay her. Although she had a big enough settlement to buy a property she ended up living in rented property which she could no longer afford without increased maintenance from Mr Mills. This result followed recent judicial thinking that divorce should not constitute a meal ticket for life. It also highlighted the importance of getting a financial clean break to avoid becoming involved in lengthy and expensive court proceedings.
Divorce Law Reforms
The government launched a consultation on reforming the legal requirements for divorce. The purpose of the government'sproposed reforms was to remove "fault" and focus on supporting spouses to make arrangements for the future. The consultation ran from 15 September 2018 to 10 December 2018. The outcome and a possible change in the law are eagerly awaited.
The myth of common law marriage was very much on the agenda in 2018. Following a campaign by Resolution, the national association of family lawyers, pressure has been maintained on government to reform the law on cohabiting couples to address the lack of rights for couples who live together outside of marriage. A change in the law is still awaited but the campaign will continue.
Divorce Law and Brexit
Brexit was a highly debated topic throughout 2018 and in December the Ministry of Justice published the draft Jurisdiction and Judgments (Family) (Amendment etc) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which will come into force if there is no Brexit deal. The Regulations ensure there is a functioning statute book if the UK exits the EU without agreement on civil judicial co-operation in family law.
Looking Ahead at 2019
…. And finally, it has been announced this month that Jeff Bezos, boss of Amazon and reputedly the world’s richest man and his wife of 25 years, Mackenzie are to divorce. Will she get 50% of his assets? Watch this space.
2019 is set to be a landmark year for Divorce Law, so I’ll be keeping up to date with all of the latest news and developments with regards to the divorce law reforms, the legal rights for cohabiting couples and introduction of Civil Partnerships for heterosexual couples and will keep you posted!
If you require any legal advice with regards to divorce and separation, contact Lawson-West Solicitors today on 0116 212 1000 and arrange an appointment with a member of my team today, alternatively email me directly via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.View all