Following on from our previous Blogs regarding the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill (read part 1 here or part 2 here), we look at the next stage of the Bill process, the line by line examination of the Bill by the ‘Committee of the Whole House’ that took place in the House of Lords on 3rd March 2020.

Amendments

There were 21 amendments scheduled in total. Only a select few of these were ‘moved’ meaning they were formally proposed and therefore debated. What we consider to be the most important proposed amendments are explained further:

  1. The initial statement that the marriage has broken down ‘irretrievably’.

Lord McColl of Dulwich proposed that the wording of the initial petition should be amended to state that the petitioner ‘thinks’ the marriage has broken down but not definitely ‘irretrievably.’ His argument was that by stating the marriage had broken down irretrievably would discourage any attempt at reconciliation between the parties and suggest to the respondent that the divorce was inevitable, when that may not be the case.

Lord Keen of Elie suggested that by telling the court you are ‘thinking’ about the marriage being over lends itself to having the “perverse effect of encouraging speculative applications.”

Baroness Burt of Solihull was also particularly concerned with marriages where there is an element of domestic abuse. She commented it “… could make it more difficult for a spouse to leave an abusive relationship: “You only think our marriage is over, dear. Why don’t you come home with me and think again?””

This amendment was subsequently withdrawn.

  1. The wellbeing of children when deciding whether to grant a final Divorce Order.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote raised the issue that the Bill in its current form focuses on pushing through a quick divorce for the Petitioner, with a “complete lack of credible regard for any children involved…We must remember the reality that the post-divorce family, no matter the level of conflict, is an entirely new form of family that radically changes what it means to experience childhood.”

She suggested that children caught up within divorce proceedings need to have their welfare at the forefront of any decisions made, so as to cause as minimal impact on their future wellbeing as possible.

The proposed amendment drew mixed reactions from the members with some arguing that children are already considered under The Children Act 1989 when agreeing on any arrangements and need not be considered in respect of the divorce itself, and others suggesting that the impact on children should rightly be considered in the divorce.

This amendment was subsequently withdrawn.

  1. Extending the minimum legal period for a divorce to 12 months, with the additional six weeks between the conditional and final orders.

This proposed amendment was put forward on the basis that by extending the period before the Conditional Order is granted, thereby making couples stay married for longer, it would potentially help children or encourage more reconciliations.

The majority of the responses to the proposal were negative, with many members suggesting that the Government-suggested 20 week minimum period before the Conditional Order is made would be sufficient, and that by extending this period further would unnecessarily delay matters.

This amendment was subsequently withdrawn.

  1. The 20 week minimum period commencing on service of the petition on the Respondent, not on issue of the petition.

We previously discussed the concerns of the House of Lords surrounding when the 20 week minimum period before the ‘Conditional Order’ could be made commences. The argument surrounding this proposed amendment was raised by Lord Mackay of Clashfern who stated “it is not right that the length of the notice should be determined solely by the applicant.”

The main issue debated in this regard surrounded the actual service of the papers on the Respondent and many members felt that this could be properly addressed by dealing with the rules surrounding service of the papers, rather than by amending the rule on the 20 week minimum period within the Bill.

This amendment was subsequently withdrawn.

What was the outcome?

None of the amendments suggested were carried and therefore the Bill was reported as drafted, without amendment.

Next Steps

The Bill now moves to the ‘Report stage’ which gives all members of the House of Lords a further opportunity to debate any proposed amendments to the Bill. This stage usually last several days and is due to commence on 17th March 2020.