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Divorce in England and Dubai: quick, quick, slow?

Dec 10, 2018, 15:41 PM
Divorce in England and Dubai: quick, quick, slow?
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Debates around how we process divorce are currently active in both England and the UAE – but that may be where the similarities end, according to Michael Rowlands, a partner at Kingsley Napley in London.

Earlier this year, the case of Hugh and Tini Owens, Owens v Owens, sparked a debate about how we divorce in England.

On 15 September 2018, the UK Ministry of Justice announced a consultation on the reform of the legal requirements for divorce, comprising a long document which heralds changes including the removal of fault based divorce and making it non-acrimonious (it is said) and easier.

Three years ago, The Bacon Bill, an attempt by MP Richard Bacon to achieve the same thing, failed - so what’s new and why now?

Statistics in the UK highlight that marriage is going out of fashion, something that is likely only to be encouraged by the inevitable legislation that will follow the UK Supreme Court’s decision in Steinfield and Keidan, which found it to be discriminatory for heterosexual couples to be excluded from entering into a civil partnership.

Divorce is at a 40 year low

Some suggest the timing of the consultation may have been connected with Boris Johnson’s announcement on the 7th of September 2018 of his own divorce, the very same day that the press released the Justice Secretary’s intentions.

Whilst the removal of fault based divorce has long been the ambition of the family law profession and this proposal will be seen as a victory, family lawyers know that the real tension in the divorce process lies in the subsequent disputes over money and children, fuelled by a discretionary system and, some say, the lawyers’ egos.

The Justice Secretary says that marriage “will always be one of our most important institutions” while others say that it has just been made easier and therefore devalues it.

Meanwhile in Dubai things are very different. While the UAE marriage rate is also falling, the divorce rate is increasing.

Last month, the UAE newspaper, The National, reported the debate that is raging in the family law world in Dubai. Apparently, a local lawyer said in a Dubai television discussion that it was too easy for wives to file for divorce “any woman who wants to go to court and get a divorce can do so” and he called for “an urgent need to amend the law”.

Another lawyer was quoted as arguing against the decision “our law is derived from Sharia, which allows the husband to divorce for no reason and to remarry without the consent of his wife so it is only fair to allow the woman to get a divorce from this point of the law that they have frowned upon.

Uniquely, however, in the UAE, before a divorce can be commenced, there is a compulsory referral to a Family Guidance Councillor who will meet with the couple, often more than once, in the hope of achieving reconciliation. They operate as a kind of gatekeeper with the ability to an arbitration process and only when this process fails will a divorce follow.

For many, anything that makes the divorce process easier undermines the institution of marriage.

The current debates in England and the UAE differ greatly. In the UK, it is about making divorce easier for both men and women whilst in the UAE, the focus is on one party’s ability to divorce. The focus in both, however, is on the value that the two societies attribute to the institution of marriage and the divorce laws which are slowly undermining its relevance.

Michael joined Kingsley Napley in August 2010 as a partner in family law, specialising in family law, including children, money and nuptial agreements.

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