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MPs pass faultless divorce legislation

Legislation to drop “blaming and shaming” in divorce proceedings was yesterday passed by MPs.

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, told the House of Assembly that the Matrimonial Causes (Faultless Divorce) Amendment Act was “the first part of a raft of reforms aimed at modernising matrimonial law in Bermuda”.

She told MPs it would “aid in the reduction of conflict” for people applying to get a divorce, nullity of marriage or judicial separation by dropping the requirement for couples to prove in court there has been an irretrievable breakdown of marriage.

Instead, either party to a marriage can apply for a divorce order and give a statement attesting to breakdown of marriage as “conclusive evidence”, the Attorney-General said.

She added: “The restriction on a divorce application within three years of marriage remains.”

Ms Simmons said it was a “much-needed“ move for “the removal of the unhelpful blaming and shaming associated with having to prove in court that the conduct of one of the parties is responsible for the breakdown of the marriage”.

She said the “overly contentious” regime inflicted harm on families, including children, and strained finances.

Ms Simmons said the streamlined legislation would also prevent a backlog of cases.

The legislation also modernised the legal terminology accompanying a divorce and set a minimum time period of five months for the divorce process.

There is a four to 12-week time period for a nullity of marriage to be made final.

Scott Pearman, the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, said the One Bermuda Alliance supported the amendments.

He added that Ms Simmons said she was “hopeful for cross-party support”.

Mr Pearman said: “Let me assure her that she has it. This is a Bill the Opposition supports.”

But he added the legislation could go further, and asked why the time period for applying for divorce could not be cut to one year after marriage, as is the case in Britain.

Mr Pearman said the island’s existing requirement to prove irretrievable breakdown “just pours fuel on the fire”.

Under the current regime, divorce can be granted after two years of separation if both parties agree — but the couple must be apart for five years if there is no agreement.

Mr Pearman said that wait, combined with the minimum of three years’ marriage before being able to petition for divorce, meant people could be “locked into a marriage you don’t want for a complete period of eight years”.

He said the UK had reformed divorce procedure in 2020 but that states such as California had made the move as long ago as 1969.

Anthony Richardson, a Progressive Labour Party MP, emphasised that the Bill was not an attack on marriage, which he said was “a cornerstone of society”.

But he added that there was less focus on the “legal context” of marriage, with many people choosing to raise children in “a wholesome environment” without tying the knot.

Mr Richardson said the Bill was “sensitive and sensible”.

He added: “This is a unique opportunity to strengthen society by which everyone has an holistic environment to enjoy their upbringing.”

He said that couples had often delayed divorce because of legal hurdles, which meant children were forced to live in dysfunctional households.

Ianthia Wade-Simmons, a PLP backbencher, agreed.

She added: “When the parents are not happy, the children are being raised in a hostile environment.

“Having no fault allows people to move out of a relationship and move on with their lives.”

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Published February 19, 2022 at 7:54 am (Updated February 19, 2022 at 7:54 am)

MPs pass faultless divorce legislation

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