Leading law firm Aticus Law is expecting a huge upturn in divorce enquiries to its busy family law team based in Wilmslow, and believes that 2019 will be its biggest year yet for post summer holiday divorce enquiries.
September is always one of the busiest months for its family law team as unfortunately, not all couples will have enjoyed the extra time together during the summer holidays. Added to this the leading law firm has been planning for an increase in people seeking divorce advice due to law changes that are expected to come into effect during the next few months.
On average the number of divorce enquiries the firm receives is always at least 20% higher in September and January (following the Christmas holidays) than during other months of the year. And in readiness for this September’s upturn Aticus Law has expanded its offices on Wilmslow’s prestigious Water Lane (next to the Aston Martin showroom) to make room for the increased family law staff team and workload.
The firm – which also has offices in London’s The Shard and Queen’s Chambers in Manchester – completed their expansion onto two floors of the Wilmslow building earlier this month.
The family law team is headed by Associate Solicitor Rachel Ward who launched the team in 2017. Says Ms Ward: “Even in a normal year we always get an increase in divorce enquiries in the first two weeks following the end of the summer holidays as well as following the Christmas holidays. Add to that the fact that in couples will soon no longer have to prove one of them was at fault to get a divorce and it makes total sense for us to be prepared for an increase in the number of divorce enquiries and cases we handle”.
There are a number of proposals for change in family law in England and Wales, which include the “No-Fault Divorce” and a change to Cohabitation Rights following the Owen v Owen case.
Currently the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 means couples wishing to divorce have to ‘prove’ their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour or they can divorce by agreement after two years separation. In the absence of consent or evidence of fault, petitioners must wait until they have been living apart for five years, which adds to further upset at a traumatic time.
Ms Ward adds: “The divorce law currently creates conflict and does not really reflect society today where couples are increasingly mindful of their emotional health, the impact a messy divorce can have on their children or the fact that many couples want to try to stay friends post-marriage breakdown.”
Marriage breakdowns are inevitable for some couples and sensitivity and long-term planning are key to reducing confusion and distress. Says Ms Ward: “We encourage our clients to think long term as during a separation, lives can be very focused on the here and now. A big part of my role is to help them envision the future and understand what they want their goals to be once the immediate pain and anguish has passed.”
Similar law changes in Scotland led to a spike in cases. Proposals for changes to the law which are expected to start coming into effect in the next few months include retaining the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce and replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown.
Other proposals will see aretaining the two-stage legal process currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute,creating the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process removing the ability to contest a divorce and introducing a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute).