Marital Breakdown

Part of Clause 5 – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 17th June 1996.

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Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department), Assistant Whip (Law Officers) 8:30 pm, 17th June 1996

I cannot move the amendments formally because it is important to explain their purpose.

Under the Bill as drafted, parties are able to suspend the passing of the period for reflection and consideration by notifying the court that they wish to attempt reconciliation. The amendments provide that the passing of the lapse period following the period for reflection and consideration can also be suspended for the same reason. They will therefore encourage attempts at reconciliation right up until the time of an application for a divorce order.

On amendment No. 105, the statement does not simply lapse at the end of the period for reflection and consideration so as to give extra time to parties for whom the period for reflection and consideration may not have proved long enough to reach decisions about future arrangements, so that they do not have to recommence the divorce process. It is important, however, that there is a set time at which the statement lapses. Allowing proceedings to drag on, with all the inevitable uncertainty, can be very harmful to children, as well as potentially to the parties.

It is also important that people are aware that there is only finite time available to them for making their arrangements. Allowing people to believe that they can apply for an extension to the lapse period if they prevaricate may encourage some people to do just that. That may be the case particularly where negotiations are acrimonious, in the sense that it may be used as a bargaining chip.

Amendment No. 105 would allow the court to extend the lapse period where it appears to the court that to do so would be just in all the circumstances. Under the terms of the amendment, the court would be expected to have regard to the presumption that the divorce process should ordinarily be concluded within two and a half years. It seems to be an attempt to provide parties who have not applied for an extension to the period for reflection and consideration with the same overall time limit for the divorce process as those who are granted an extension to the period.

The six-month extension to the period for reflection and consideration has a specific purpose. It is intended to provide additional time for parties to reconsider the step that they are taking to divorce where one party does not consent, or where they have children under 16. It is not simply an extra six months to enable parties to reach decisions on their future arrangements and it should not therefore be equated with adding on extra time to the lapse period.

The Government intend to make the following provision under rules of court: where the lapse period is likely to apply and ancillary relief proceedings are still pending, parties will make an application for a divorce or separation order. The court will have power to adjourn the application. It is intended that rules of court will provide the circumstances when the court will adjourn the application. It is intended that those circumstances will be where ancillary relief proceedings have not been concluded for reasons that are beyond the control of the applicant or the other party.

Government amendment No. 48 simply rectifies an omission in the Bill as drafted. Under clause 10(4), after cancellation of an order preventing divorce, a divorce order can be made only if a fresh application is made under clause 3. There is, however, the possibility of an application for a divorce order being made under clause 4(3)—hence the need for the amendment.