The government intends to reintroduce two Bills regarding family law policy: the Domestic Abuse Bill and Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill.
The Domestic Abuse Bill aims to to improve the protection of victims and their children, ensuring they have the required support and that offenders are brought to justice. In relation to the Bill, the government has also announced plans to pilot integrated domestic abuse courts.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill is intended to remove issues that create conflict within the divorce process and introduce a minimum timeframe before the court makes a conditional divorce. The Bill is also intended to ensure that the decision to divorce is a considered one, reduce family conflict where reconciliation is not possible and bring reform that will directly benefit families by supporting parties to focus on the future. It will also introduce no fault divorce.
The main elements of the Domestic Abuse Bill are:
- creating a statutory definition of domestic abuse, emphasising that domestic abuse is not just physical or sexual violence, but can also involve emotional, coercive or controlling, and economic abuse
- establishing in law the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of local authorities, the justice system and other statutory agencies and hold them to account in tackling domestic abuse
- providing for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order—placing restrictions and other requirements on perpetrators in order to better protect victims
- placing a duty on tier one local authorities in England (County Councils, Metropolitan and Unitary Authorities, the Greater London Authority) to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation
- creating a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts (for example, to enable them to give evidence via a video link)
- placing the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s Law’) on a statutory footing
- creating a new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland to criminalise controlling or coercive behaviour
- prohibiting perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts
- extending the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the UK courts so that, where appropriate, UK nationals and residents who commit certain violent and sexual offences outside the UK may be brought to trial in the UK.
The objectives of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill include:
- retaining the sole ground of irretrievable breakdown, but replacing the requirement to make an allegation about the other spouse’s conduct or demonstrate a period of separation with the requirement to state to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down
- introducing a new minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and applying for the conditional order (the six-week period between conditional and final order—currently called decree nisi and decree absolute—will remain)
- introducing a new option for a joint application in cases where the decision to divorce is a mutual one.
Speaking in response to the announcement, Resolution's former Chair, and long-time campaigner on no-fault divorce, Nigel Shepherd, said: "We welcome the confirmation that legislation to provide for no fault divorce will be re-introduced, as well as the Domestic Abuse Bill. Bearing in mind the almost unanimous support for these measures from politicians, public, professionals and the judiciary, the stop-start nature of these Bills thus far has been frustrating for our members and the families they support. Our members therefore stand ready to work with MPs, Ministers and officials in order to get these vital reforms over the finish line as soon as possible in 2020."