Wednesday 5 February 2020 5:25 am

DEBATE: Should the government scrap plans to impose an extra 20-week delay on divorces?

Emily Brand is a partner at law firm Boodle Hatfield
and Jo Edwards
Jo Edwards is a partner and head of family at Forsters LLP
Partner, Boodle Hatfield

Should the government scrap plans to impose an extra 20-week delay on divorces?

YES, says Emily Brand, a partner at Boodle Hatfield.

The government’s reason for introducing the new 20-week delay appears to be to ensure that couples have a period to “reflect on the decision to divorce”, “change course”, or “agree arrangements for the future” if divorce is the only option. 

This law is shrouded in misplaced paternalism seeking to protect “weak-minded” people who are divorcing rather than choosing the righteous path of staying within their marriage — however unhappy. 

If you have been in an abusive relationship, you do not need further time to reflect. If you are pregnant with someone else, you might wish to remarry before the baby is born. Whatever your circumstances, the choice to divorce is highly personal.

As a family lawyer, I cannot recall ever meeting a potential divorcé who has not agonised over the ending of their marriage. Regardless of sex, religion, or sexual orientation, everyone has the right to determine how they shape their family lives — and, once that decision is made, the law should not interfere. 

NO, says Jo Edwards, a partner and head of family at Forsters LLP.

This isn’t about adding extra delays to the divorce process. The new law will be based on notification — one or both of the spouses signifies that they think the marriage has broken down, after 20 weeks they will be entitled to their “conditional order” and six weeks later the “final order”. The Bill going through the House of Lords today says that the 20 weeks should begin from the date of the petition, not from service, and I completely agree with this approach.

The effect of the 20-week rule will not be to slow the process down. The reality is that undefended divorces under the present system have been getting slower for a number of years (especially since the opening of centralised divorce centres) and now take up to 12 months. The 20 week rule notification brings us into line with many European countries, which either have short periods of notification or shorter periods of separation than required under our present law (two years). 

Reform is not about the pace of divorce or disposability of marriage; it is about making divorce a kinder process.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.