The Jersey Law Commission has today (26 October 2015) published a report on radical divorce law reform, introducing no-fault divorces and recommending legally binding pre- and post-nuptial agreements
The reformation will not only bring Jersey law in line with that in Guernsey and Scotland where the waiting period before divorce proceedings is concerned, but will also update it to fit with 21st century family law as a whole – the current Matrimonial Causes (Jersey) Act 1949 has been criticised as being ‘unfit for purpose’, especially in comparison to contemporary divorce law in other locations in the UK.
The proposed changes include:
•‘fast-track divorces’: where there is no dispute in respect of children or finances, a divorce should be able to be fast-tracked to obtain a divorce order within 3 months;
•the introduction of no-fault divorces to the island: the grounds for obtaining a divorce (or dissolution of a civil partnership) should not be based on factors such as adultery or ‘unreasonable behaviour’;
•the abolition of the 3-year waiting period prior to the initiation of divorce proceedings in Jersey;
•enabling a couple to make a ‘clean break’ after divorce proceedings have been completed;
•permitting married couples to enter into legally binding agreements (‘pre- or post-nups’) regarding what should happen if their marriage came to an end, provided certain safeguards are in place;
•the setting-up of a Resolution Service, providing alternative dispute resolution facilities, mediation, arbitration and counselling services for couples who feel the end of their marriage is imminent.
The Jersey Law Commission is an independent body of lawyers appointed by the States Assembly to keep Jersey law under review, with the aim of reforming it when and where necessary. The Chairman of the Law Commission, Clive Chaplin, was positive about the impact the new law changes would have on considering and already undergoing divorce proceedings on the island: ‘Divorce is a matter of great significance to many people in Jersey. Between 240 and 260 couples start divorce proceedings every year.
The Law Commission’s project provides a blueprint for better law that may help save some marriages and, where that’s not possible, make the process of ending marriages easier.’
Appointed by the Law Commission to lead the project as a ‘topic practitioner’, Advocate Barbara Corbett, also emphasised the reform’s focus on conserving marriages: ‘The current Jersey law doesn’t encourage or facilitate reconciliation when a couple are separated prior to starting the divorce proceedings or during the proceedings … The Law Commission’s proposals support the institution of marriage and recommend ways in which marriage can be saved wherever possible’.
Ms Corbett was also confident in the new attitude towards implementing no-fault divorce: ‘It should be possible to obtain a divorce without apportioning blame. If a couple agree that their marriage is at an end they should be able to apply jointly for a divorce. There should be no need for court proceedings’.
It will now be left for the States of Jersey to decide whether or not to accept the recommendations contained with the report, and, if decided in their favour, how to go about implementing them into modern Jersey law.
The full report is available to download here