This is one of the primary concerns the Law Society has about this structure. We are very anxious. The respondent to a sole petition may be unaware of how seriously the other spouse feels about the marriage—they may not be expecting a divorce. Then, not only does she/he receive a divorce petition, as we still call it, but they also receive an application for financial claims. From day one, we have not only the divorce time period but the financial claims running.
The Law Society’s strong recommendation is that we carve out, within the 26 weeks, a three-month period where there are no financial proceedings. Then the respondent spouse is not facing the claims to make full disclosure—once that happens, the thinking moves on to “Oh, we have now got to resolve matters post-divorce.” We are very keen for there to be a period of reflection and consideration, which is what we had in the 1996 legislation in another form, to give an opportunity to pause, reflect, talk, maybe to have counselling, maybe in some cases to have reconciliation and maybe for one party to get up to speed with the other party. It is the constant experience of divorce lawyers that one party may have come to terms with the ending of a marriage before the other, so we are dealing with a very different emotional timetable.
This three months will not be of any prejudice. If urgent applications have to be made for interim provision, that is fine. It will not affect children or domestic violence, which are always separate proceedings. It just is a litigation-free zone for three months. We are not in any way saying there should be an extra three-month period—it is part of the 26-week period. After that, it is fine if couples want to say “Hey, let’s just get on with it by consent”, but for those who say they would like a pause, this legislation needs to find somewhere to say: “We want to give an opportunity for consideration, maybe of reconciliation, maybe a pause in the proceedings.” At the moment it does not. As Aidan said, and as the Government consultation paper said, it would be between the conditional order and the final order. That is the wrong end of the process. Have it at the beginning—a three-month period.