Is there such thing as an amicable separation?

It has recently been reported in the Daily Mail that comedian Jason Manford and his wife Catherine have agreed to go their separate ways after having been married for 6 years with 3 children.

The article refers to the fact that it has been an amicable split and they actually decided to separate a year ago after simply “growing apart” but have remained friends. Indeed as a matrimonial solicitor dealing with the breakdown of marriages and divorce on a daily basis, I have come across quite a few ‘amicable divorces’ over the years. The most amicable fact to rely on for a divorce would be 2 years separation and both parties consent to the divorce taking place.

This could be the route that Jason and Catherine could be taking. It is however a myth that divorcing on the basis of 2 years separation is quicker than relying on another fact such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour. All divorce proceedings follow the same procedure and should take the same amount of time.

There is also a common misconception that you can divorce someone on the basis of ‘irreconcilable differences’, which again would be a more amicable way to divorce your spouse, however that fact does not exist here. It exists in the USA and I believe  that if it were available in England and Wales, then most of the divorcing couples would issue a divorce petition based on ‘irreconcilable differences’. It would help to avoid inflaming an already difficult situation that divorcing couples find themselves in and there was an attempt to introduce a ‘no fault divorce’ in the 1996 Family Law Act, however it was rejected by Parliament. Therefore you can only rely on the facts of adultery and unreasonable behaviour if you wish to divorce on straight away as opposed to waiting 2 years or 5 years since separating.

Whilst I can definitely see why some couples may want to wait 2 years and issue an amicable divorce petition, most clients I speak to do not want to wait 2 years as they feel that their lives are being put on hold . There can also be risks in relation to the finances and parties acquiring assets since separation and whether their ex-spouse would have a claim to it or not. Whilst it is recommended for those that want to wait 2 years but wish to settle the finances that a separation agreement is prepared, this is not legally binding and it can be changed.