Divorce Over The Last Decade


Overall, there were 118,140 divorces granted in the UK in 2012 according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and it's estimated that 42% of marriages will end in divorce.

Divorce over the last decade

With divorce affecting so many of us, we're looking at some key changes in divorce law over the last few years, and what reform we could see in future.

Over the Counter Divorce

In an effort to reduce the burdens on local courts in processing divorces, by the end of the year people will be able to get their uncontested divorce granted at one of 11 divorce centres across the UK rather than their local court. At these centres, uncontested applications for divorce will be prepared for decree nisi consideration by a trained legal adviser and supervised by a district judge. The government hope that the new system will "free up judicial time for other work, and reduce processing delays and inconsistency."

Parveen Attri, our Associate Family Law solicitor based in Birmingham, comments;

"Uncontested divorce is very straightforward, so it's certainly a good thing that this system is being simplified. This shows a step forward in improving the efficiency of uncontested divorce, and a move towards satisfying modern couple's needs. Anything that serves to make the process quicker and less stressful for our clients is a good thing."

"Some of the 11 divorce centres are already up and running. So far, our experience with the Stoke centre is really positive with petitions being dealt with far quicker. It's also good that urgent applications can be dealt with over the counter, which is something that was not possible previously."

Pre-nuptial Agreements

After years of resisting following the suit of other countries, a 2010 Supreme Court test case saw the first recognition of the pre-nuptial agreement (pre-nup) in UK courts. The case saw a pre-nup protecting the wealth of German heiress, Ms Radmacher, upheld in order to protect her family fortune.

Pre-nups can be favoured because they help to avoid lengthy court disputes over finances should a couple choose to divorce. Lengthy divorce battles can see millions being spent on legal costs alone.

The recent high profile divorce between former beauty queen Ms Ekaterina Parfenova and her lawyer husband, Mr Richard Fields, saw them lose a massive £1 million in a divorce battle that Mr Justice Holman likened to a "boxing match."

People who have been burned in a previous marriage may also tend to favour pre-nups as it'll avoid this happening again and can safeguard property intended for children from the previous marriage. We're surprised Mr Fields hasn't adopted this stance considering this was his 5th marriage!

Ex Coming Back For Money

This year, we saw in the case between the millionaire Ecotricity founder, Mr Dale Vince, and his ex wife, Ms Cathleen Wyatt, that you can come back to make a claim on your ex's wealth as long as 20 years after your divorce has been granted.

There has since been an influx of applications to reopen cases, rising from 14,700 to 29,000 in a year.

It's suggested that this rising demand to make a claim could be due to a boom in the property market, but whatever the case, it has brought to everyone's attention just how important it can be to make sure you get a court order when you initially divorce to safeguard against future claims.

Divorcees with Children Over 7 to Find Work

Another landmark ruling this year saw the Court of Appeal hold that spouses should no longer expect to have financial support after the children reach the age of 7. They held that women should not expect funds from their ex-spouse to continue to fund their lifestyle as stay at home mums.

The case involved Ms Tracey Wright, a mother of 2 who decided not to work after splitting up with equine surgeon Mr Ian Malcolm Wright. She was told by the court to get a job like the "vast numbers of other women with children" after Mr Wright complained about supporting her financially whilst she refused to find work.

What Might we See Next?

There is increasing pressure to reform our divorce system further in efforts to remove the need to apportion blame.

Unless couples are willing to wait 2 years after separation to divorce (or 5 without agreement), you'll need to rely on grounds of either adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour. This often leaves couples needing to pick fault at one another in order to rely on unreasonable behaviour as to divorce quickly.

Organisations including National Family Mediation and the family law solicitors association, Resolution, are in favour of reform to remove the element of fault. The need to apportion blame not only increases tension and hurt feeling, it makes resolving children and financial issues far more difficult.

Baroness Hale has advised that couples should instead declare that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, and then take a 1 year cooling off period to manage arrangements.

We at Simpson Millar LLP hope to see change with regards to fault based divorce. Any reform that aims to make the difficult process of divorce easier to cope with and less acrimonious for our clients is welcomed.

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