Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill 2017-19: An Update

12th November 2019

Following on from partner Amanda Adeola’s article Owens –v-Owens Demonstrates the Need for No fault Divorce’  published in July 2018 progress has now been made in answer to the calls for no fault divorce in England and Wales.

Although it remains the case at present that if you wish to divorce immediately after separation you must demonstrate ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’ apportioning blame to the other party, change is on its way.

In September 2018 the Supreme Court made the decision not to grant Decree Nisi in the Owens case, the result of which meant that Mrs Owens is to remain married until 2020 at the earliest, at which point, Mr Owens would have no defence to a petition brought on the basis of five years’ separation. The Justices however expressed their dissatisfaction with the position, Lord Wilson stating “…our society…now urgently demands a second attempt by Parliament, to reform the five ancient bases of divorce.”

Lady Hale who also presided over the case saidI have found this a very troubling case. It is not for us to change the law laid down by Parliament - our role is only to interpret and apply the law that Parliament has given us.”

No fault divorce quickly moved up the Government’s agenda for reform and on 9 April 2019 the Government announced its intention to proceed with planned changes to divorce legislation as proposed by Resolution for Family Lawyers, changes which the organisation has been campaigning for, for over 30 years.

The proposed changes can be summarised as follows:


  1. Removal of the requirement to demonstrate irretrievable breakdown by reference to one of five facts; instead irretrievable breakdown will remain the sole ground for divorce demonstrated by a confirmatory statement by one party to the divorce;The option to issue a joint application, for example where the split is amicable and both parties wish to divorce, but neither wishes to apportion blame to the other;
  2. An end to the option to defend a divorce other than on limited bases not related to the facts causing breakdown, but purely in connection with procedural issues;
  3. ntroduction of minimum timescales between different stages in the three-stage divorce process;
  4. Modernisation of language used with the Petition and other court documents, known as ‘pleadings’. 


These changes are predicted to be hugely positive if implemented reducing parties’ costs in the divorce process and helping to maintain good relations between the parties during the process which will aid in negotiating finances on divorce and should reduce hostility in any subsequent children proceedings.

The Bill is currently at second reading stage in the House of Lords, but there is currently no sign of this returning to the Government’s agenda with Brexit looming and now a general election called for 12th December 2019.

All work in connection with the Bill has been placed on hold. With the general election being so close to Christmas and uncertainties surrounding Brexit, the earliest the Bill can be expected to be enacted, is 2020.

Even then, it has to pass through a third stage parliamentary reading in the House of Commons after having been scrutinized by MPs. Whilst this is not predicted to cause issues for the Bill given its popularity with all parties, an election at such a turbulent time could change the constitution of the House and in turn the agenda, quite considerably. 


If you need advice regarding divorce/separation and ancillary matters, our team at BHP Law can assist. Our lawyers are members/accredited members of Resolution and we also have a collaboratively trained lawyer.


With the general election being so close to Christmas and uncertainties surrounding Brexit, the earliest the Bill can be expected to be enacted, is 2020.

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