Fulfilling a professional duty

The SOlicitors Family Law Association (SFLA) has reported a marked increase in the number of couples filing for divorce on the grounds of adultery or unreasonable behaviour a trend it is blaming on uncertainty surrounding the introduction of the Family Law Act.

The SFLA says government dithering over when to introduce part two of the Family Law Act 1996 which contains controversial “no fault” divorce provisions is behind the rise reported by its membership.

Under the terms of section two, the five existing grounds for divorce will be replaced with a statement by divorcing couples that their marriage has irretrievably broken down.

But before they can divorce couples will have to undergo mediation and a cooling off period a process that will take 12 months, or 18 if the couple have children. Under existing mutual consent rules couples must wait two years before their divorce goes through.

According to the SFLA, couples contemplating a divorce in the run up to the introducton of section two of the Act are being put in a difficult position.

Although the Act contains transitional arrangements for couples mid-way through divorces, family lawyers say it is unclear how they will work.

This means that couples who commit themselves to divorce by mutual consent risk having to wait a lot longer for their divorce to come through if the Act comes into force before their two-year wait is up.

The SFLA claims that, as a result, couples are seeking quick divorces on grounds other than those of mutual consent and is calling on the Government to commit itself to a date for the introduction of no fault divorces and to clarify the transitional arrangements.

Last week the Government insisted the reforms were going ahead but said that the timetable may slip due to problems getting enough people to take part in mediation pilot schemes taking place across the country.

Part two of the Act was due to come in to force next January, but it is now not expected to be introduced until the end of 1999 or the beginning of 2000.

SFLA vice-chair Rosemary Carter said reports of a rise in the number of quick divorces was “a matter of concern for the association, since the thrust of the legislation was to end fault-based divorce, and to give people long enough to reflect”.

SFLA treasurer Ellie Chapman said she had seen two couples during the last six weeks who had entered divorce proceedings immediately to avoid the risk of extra waiting time.