On 13 March 2023, the Bermuda House of Assembly announced that the Matrimonial Causes (Faultless Divorce) Amendment Act 2022 is now in force. This Act amends the Matrimonial Causes Act 1974 to reform the legal process for obtaining a divorce, nullity of marriage or judicial separation.
These amendments have brought a welcome end to the divorce “blame game” that was required under the old legislation. Couples can now divorce without having to blame their spouse for the marriage’s breakdown.
The “fault” that parties previously had to rely on often fuelled conflict, leading to upset and resentment. Especially when children were involved, proving fault could have long-term consequences which harmed couples’ ability to positively co-parent their children with courtesy and fairness. Further, the change should help children more directly, in what is often an enormously distressing time, by removing the potentially harmful belief that one of their parents was “at fault”.
Under the old procedure, divorcing couples had to prove to a judge’s satisfaction that the marriage had broken down because of adultery, other unacceptable and intolerable behaviour, the desertion of one spouse by the other for two years, or separation for a period of two years (with consent) or five years (without consent). An application that had failed to provide evidence of one of those facts would have been refused by the Court, even in circumstances where both spouses agreed that the marriage was over. As a result, the old rules required families to engage in a costly and time-consuming exercise at a time when those funds (and energies) were almost certainly needed elsewhere.
An agreed statement that the marriage is over is the only evidence needed to obtain a divorce under the new rules. Importantly, that statement is treated as conclusive evidence of the marriage’s breakdown and therefore removes any need for detailed reasons for the separation or any investigation by the Court. The entire divorce process could be completed in as little as 20 weeks.
Further transitional provisions may be forthcoming. Overall, the reform is very positive and will hopefully allow couples to divorce more amicably than was possible in the past.