A Bill to amend the Matrimonial Causes Act 1962 was unanimously passed in Parliament during the meeting of 15 July 2019.
The amendments cover:
- non-fault divorces
- divorce petitions after the first year of marriage;
- extension of the cooling off period between the provisional and final divorce pronouncements from 6 weeks to 6 months; and
- financial relief applications following an overseas divorce.
One of the key motives in publishing the Bill was to facilitate a more harmonious process of separation and reduce the stress that can be experienced by families and the separating spouses. This is particularly important when children are involved and the parties should be focusing on co-parenting rather than having to deal with acrimonious court proceedings.
A further key aim of the law is to protect those spouses who have been the victims of domestic abuse by not forcing them to wait for a 2 or 3 year period after separation before they may bring their marriage to an end. Further, victims of spousal abuse will no longer have to confront their abusers in court by having to give evidence against them.
One of the main changes is to remove the requirement for allegations against a spouse including of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion to support the sole ground for divorce of ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’.
The minimum period of marriage required prior to the commencement of divorce proceedings is reduced from three years to one year. The requirement for a period of separation prior to divorce proceedings being commenced is also removed.
The Act also provides for financial relief proceedings to be brought in certain circumstances following an overseas divorce.
The Act was commenced on the 15th August 2019 along with the publication and commencement of the Rules of Court.
The Minister for Health, Care and Justice, the Hon. Neil F. Costa MP said: “I am extraordinarily pleased that this Bill was passed unanimously by Parliament. These important amendments to the Matrimonial Causes Act serve to create a friendly process for those navigating divorce proceedings. The new Act will end the often-witnessed culture of blame during what is already a difficult period in the lives of families and, in particular, children. It is also noteworthy that the amendments shelter victims of spousal abuse from the stressful ordeal of having to testify in front of their abusers in court. This Act serves to emotionally and psychologically soften the experience for all involved by removing those elements that cause unnecessary heartache and acrimony.”