Adam Cox is joined by Judith Buckland, from Family Law Solicitors Woolley & Co, to discuss a major new divorce law change coming in April and the public attitudes around this. They look at how the change will aid people in toxic marriages and what Woolley & Co can do to help.
Modern Mindset Podcast No Fault Divorce with Judith Buckland
In this interview with Adam Cox from the Modern Mindset podcast Woolley & Co solicitor Judith Buckland explains the forthcoming change in divorce law to introduce so-called no-fault divorce. Learn more about what the changes mean for any couples thinking of divorce, how the process is changing and the impact it might have on those in abusive or coercive relationships.
AC: This is Modern Mindset, the show that picks the brains of the worlds leading minds to help you unlock yours. I am your host, Adam Cox, and joining me today is Judith Buckland from Family Law Solicitors, Woolley & Co., welcome to the show.
JCB: Thank you, good morning.
AC: Good morning indeed. So you’ve done some research investigating the kind of words that tend to come up when people search for things like divorce and it’s things like sadness, blame, battle, all these kind of fairly negative connotations and things like that. Do you think that gives us an insight in terms of what’s happening inside people’s minds at the point where they are either considering a divorce or are going through a divorce?
JCB: I mean, yes I do. I absolutely agree with the research that’s been done and those are words that I hear from my own clients. It is a very difficult time for everybody and I think the current legislation, the current way that divorce is dealt with doesn’t really help with that because it’s blame orientated.
AC: So the current rules, as I understand them, mean that there are about five different credible reasons why a divorce can be instigated, and that’s changing in April to a no fault divorce. So can you give us a bit of a snapshot as to how things currently are and what they might be looking more like, you know, in a few months’ time?
JCB: Right, well the actual grounds for divorce is not going to change because the only ground for divorce is the irretrievably breakdown of the marriage but at the moment we’ve got a system whereby you have to evidence that by one of, as you say, five facts, three of which are to do with periods of separation, but two of which are fault based. So you have to either evidence the breakdown of your marriage by the fact of your partner’s unreasonable behaviour or the fact of your partner’s adultery, as I say the other three are to do with separation and that is difficult, as you can imagine because it’s a blame game, it means that there’s a concept of fault within that procedure, which does not help as you can imagine in trying to sort out other things. From April of this year, that is going to go so you will still have to show that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, but you do so by simply filing a very short statement saying exactly that, my marriage has broken down. So, there is no blame, there is no fault and it can be done jointly actually as from April so that both of you can decide this is what we want to do, we just file a joint statement and that is it. That is all that will be required. So, it’s going to be a big change.
AC: A lot of people may recall Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s controversial at the time statement of conscious uncoupling, this idea of they were in a relationship and they figured out it wasn’t the right relationship anymore so they both decided to move on and kind of be apart, and at the time that was ridiculed. Do you think we are moving in that kind of direction where actually people don’t look at marriages as this lifelong commitment, but more towards this kind of period of well the intention is to have a good relationship, but if it can’t work out well then, yeah, both parties agree to separate, and they agree to go their separate ways?
JCB: I don’t think people enter into marriage with that sort of concept or that sort of idea, I think you know, at the beginning of marriage people think it’s forever. I think there’s no doubt about that, but when things do go wrong ideally I would say if we can work together with the couple to try and resolve the difficulties that inevitably will arise and practical difficulties which in the main are the arrangements for children so co-parenting. I mean Gwyneth Paltrow and her ex has done that fairly well from the point of view of being very much there and present and working together for their children, that’s always got to be something that has to be a priority. And also the inevitable sorting out of a financial situation that has to follow on any divorce so yes, if we can remove the acrimony and minimise the hurt with this new procedure whereby you almost start at the moment by the blame game and it doesn’t help as you can imagine. So, if we can remove that and concentrate more on resolving the practical issues, the financial issues and most importantly how to co-parent then all to be welcomed from my point of view.
AC: Yeah. So, you’re expecting this to lead to let’s say more healthy separations, divorces that are kind of not so acrimonious. Do you think that will increase the divorce rates if it’s an easier less stressful thing for people to do?
JCB: No, I don’t think it will. I mean that’s, I know that’s not necessarily a universally held view, but I don’t think it will because the difficult part of the divorce is not the actual administrative exercise to bring your marriage to an end, the difficulty is emotional in trying to sort out those difficulties and people are going to be, I was going to say reluctant do that, they are going to work hard in their relationship to try and avoid that. When we have people coming to us talking about divorce, it’s not something that they have decided on overnight, it’s something they have wrestled with for months, sometimes years and the most difficult thing is sometimes to grasp the nettle and say ok this is what we want to do. The fact that the procedure is going to be somewhat easier, and easier emotionally I would say as opposed to necessarily easier legally, I don’t think is going to suddenly lead to a rush of divorces. I don’t think people are suddenly going to say oh gosh this is all terribly easy let’s just get on with this now because they have still got to sort out those difficulties that I alluded to earlier, the children situation and the finance situation, irrespective of what procedure they must go through in order to get their divorce.
AC: So the idea of no-fault divorce sounds like it’s the ideal choice for those people that are in relationships, the relationships aren’t working anymore or they are in a marriage where the relationship isn’t working anymore and they decide ok, well let’s kind of separate at this point. How about those that are in maybe a bit more toxic relationships or those that are the victims of domestic abuse, is a no-fault divorce still the ideal choice there, or should they be looking at some of the other terms?
JCB: No, I think that’s an example of where it will be very helpful because if you’ve got somebody in a toxic relationship or who is being subjected to domestic abuse, one of the most common problems in that scenario is control from the other party. And at the moment, they have the ability to either delay or indeed completely hold up the divorce. There are all sorts of things that a party who does not want to get divorced can do, I mean ultimately it’s unlikely to succeed but goodness they can make life an awful lot easier and that’s one of the biggest difficulties in an abusive relationship is that element of coercion and control. Now, with this new divorce procedure, you do not need anybody to cooperate, there is going to be no basis for contesting the divorce. It basically is saying to the court, I would like a divorce please and it will happen. At the moment we’ve got the procedural process whereby somebody can contest it, can defend it, can say well actually the marriage hasn’t irretrievably broken down, and even if it has it is not as a result of my behaviour or my adultery or, no we haven’t been separated for 2 years because actually spent 2 weeks together doing this that and the other. So, at the moment there’s the ability to do that. That goes at a stroke in April of this year and so I think that people who are in that sort of relationship are going to find it easier, less stressful and are going to be more capable of doing it, they are going to have the strength to do it as opposed to knowing that they could face the really difficult and unpleasant time from their partner.
AC: I mean, obviously a divorce is seen as one of the most stressful life events but also financially quite devastating, do you think this would, on the basis that there is less contention and back and forth, would that make the process of divorce less financially impactful as well?
JCB: Financially impactful from the point of view of resolving the financial difficulties between the parties or do you mean financially practical from the point of view…?
AC: I was thinking more of legal fees because I guess if there is like less kind of back and forth, does that mean the whole process is kind of quicker and therefore not so financially expensive?
JCB: I don’t think it’s going to be quicker, and the reason it’s not going to be quicker is because, and this is a big change, is that from the new procedure once you notify the court that you want to start divorce proceedings, it immediately starts a 20-week period running where nobody can do anything. There is a 20-week waiting period before you can then proceed with your divorce and that’s something that’s very different from now. In some ways it could take longer because you file your papers with the court, 20 weeks later which is what 5 months, you can then proceed which is not the case at the moment, you can do it more quickly I would say.
From the point of view of less complexity and therefore possibly a cheaper process, yes, and I think it is also going to make it more accessible for people to deal with themselves. At the moment they will very often come to lawyers and say well you know can you just deal with our divorce, we don’t really know how to do it, which of course we do, but I think the new procedure is going to make it more straightforward, it’s much more online, it’s one thing that Covid has brought us to is much more online divorce, much more online court proceedings and so I think from that point of view it is going to be more straightforward, more people are going to do it themselves and it’s probably going to be somewhat cheaper because it’s less complex but I suppose the difference or the other thing to appreciate is that the difficult and therefore expensive stuff to sort out is any issues, if there are any issues, with regard to children and finances and that’s not going to change, you know that’s still going to be difficult to do and you are still going to probably need lawyers on board to do that. That can cause delay, that can cause expense and that’s still going to be there. But with the new divorce procedure I suppose it at least clears the decks to allow people to concentrate on that, to get away from this sort of blame and hurt, it’s going to I suppose concentrate people’s minds on sorting out those practical issues and that’s one of the reasons where this 20-week period has been brought in, in the hope that you are able to sort out those problems and come to some sort of resolution before you finalise your divorce.
AC: That makes sense. And what kind of things do you think people are going to be going to Woolley & Co. for help with as a result of this?
JCB: The same as they always have. I mean people come to us with difficulties obviously they are thinking about divorce, they want to start a divorce, they want to often get an idea of what it might mean, I think that’s, a lot of people come to us without really having an idea of divorce in the first instance, but they will say to us, this is my situation, the writing may well be on the wall that we are going to separate and my biggest concern is what is going to happen to me financially, can I manage, what is going to happen to my children, are there issues there? That’s very often our starting point, our starting conversation. Of course, there are people who come to us who say right I want to start divorce and I want to do it today please and we can go but I would say majority of people are sounding us out and trying to get some information before they make those momentous decisions.
AC: Makes sense. And where’s the best place for people to go for more information on this?
JCB: Well there’s a lot of information out there, as you can imagine, it’s a kind of hot potato this at the moment and there’s been a lot in the press but as far as websites are concerned, you can’t really do much better than Woolley & Co. actually I have to say, we’ve done a lot of research on this we’ve done a lot of preparation for this to make sure that we’re on board and fully across it and so we have got quite a lot of information on our website.
AC: Fantastic. Judith Buckland there from family law solicitors, Woolley & Co. thank you so much for joining me on the show.
JCB: Thank you, thank you, it’s been a pleasure.