Divorce and separation are challenging emotional experiences that many of us have gone through. Splitting up in the best of circumstances presents an array of issues such as making child care arrangements, splitting finances and property and finding somewhere new to live. When this coincides with a domestic abuse situation, it can lead to a highly distressing experience. In this article, we look at how divorce laws are aiming to improve the process for people experiencing domestic violence.
The old divorce laws
In April 2022, new no-fault divorce laws were introduced in England and Wales. Prior to these laws, anyone seeking a divorce had to prove why their marriage had broken down. This was particularly challenging for people experiencing domestic abuse. Divorce applicants had to cite one of the following five reasons why they sought a divorce:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Living separately for two years (with consent)
- Living separately for five years
This requirement meant that victims of domestic violence often had to go through a lengthy and difficult divorce process with their abuser. Also, as stipulating ‘unreasonable behaviour’ was typically the only option, all the details and dates of their experiences would need to be evidenced and as a result, they would have to relive their trauma and upset. If the case was contested, a distressing situation could ensue for victims who may have had to face their former spouse in court. In addition, the often-drawn-out process gave opportunity for abusers to continue controlling their ex-partner and kept the victims in sometimes dangerous domestic abuse situations. Before the new rules came into use, it was popular belief from many legal specialists that the old system was not fit for purpose and was particularly poor for victims of domestic abuse.
The new no-fault divorce laws
For married couples, the no-fault divorce laws made a marked difference for those experiencing domestic abuse. Instead of having to lay blame, the person seeking a divorce is now able to simply cite ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’ in the divorce process. This means that it is no longer necessary to go into detail on the reasons why someone has made a divorce application. It also removes the opportunity for divorce respondents to contest the divorce application.
Good-bye to the blame game
Without the old blame game in place, people who have experienced domestic violence can more easily file for divorce and have the peace of mind that they will not have to go through the trauma of their abuse. Since the new reforms came into use, there has been a considerable increase in divorce applications, with many waiting for the new laws before opting to separate from their spouse. In a recent article, a Women’s Aid representative says that the legislation is a ‘game changer’ as the old process represented ‘major barriers for people escaping marriages from their abuser which may have left themselves and their children at risk.
Leaving your partner when there is domestic abuse
Whether you are married or not, when you are separating from an abusive partner, it’s important to ensure you receive the right support. There can be many fears linked with leaving, for instance, your children, coping financially, not knowing where to access support, worrying about being homeless and whether or not your partner may react badly to your attempts to leave. You can get support for leaving a domestic abuse relationship by reaching out to organisations set up specifically to help you.