Private Lives - Divorce law: too complex, outdated and out of touch


03 April 2019

Research published by the Nuffield Foundation on 6 February highlights the need for divorce law reform. 

It is hoped that the recent research, by Professor Liz Trinder from Exeter University, will influence the Ministry of Justice to consider the urgent reform of divorce law. 

The current legislation is viewed by many to be too complex, outdated and out of touch with society today, particularly given the rise in the number of cohabiting couples and litigants in person. 

One of the findings highlights that 14% of all divorce cases in England and Wales either come to a halt completely, or are significantly delayed because the spouse receiving the divorce petition refuses to respond. The research suggests that these ‘non-response’ cases are more likely to occur in situations where there are allegations of domestic abuse or coercive control.

If a spouse refuses to respond to a divorce petition, this causes particular problems for litigants in person. As an unrepresented party, or a self-represented party, they are unlikely to understand the legal steps that could be taken to prove to the court that the other person has received the divorce petition, thereby enabling the divorce proceedings to move forward. 

As the law currently stands, divorce proceedings will not progress unless the person receiving the divorce petition formally acknowledges receipt, usually by completing and returning to the court their acknowledgement of service form. If this doesn’t happen, the person serving the petition can take other legal steps to prove to the court that the person has been served. 

The research published concludes that “it cannot be right that where a marriage has broken down irretrievably, respondents can continue to obstruct the divorce simply by refusing to engage.”

It is possible that digitisation of the divorce process will offer an opportunity to address this particular problem. The recent report strongly recommends that the Government looks to re-design the ‘acknowledgement of service’ form, making information clearer for both parties to the divorce and incorporating every possible means to prevent non-response. 

If you would like to arrange an appointment to discuss the divorce process with one of our divorce lawyers or would like divorce advice please contact Denise Findlay on 01603 756470 or [email protected]. Our divorce solicitors are available in all four of our offices - Cambridge, Chelmsford, Ipswich or Norwich.

This article is from the spring 2019 issue of Private Lives, our newsletter covering the key legal and tax issues that individuals face. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at April 2019.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news, legal updates and seminar information, please register and select the areas that are of interest to you.