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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 December 2005, 12:31 GMT
MSPs pass quicker divorce plans
Far-reaching changes to family law were debated by MSPs
The Scottish Parliament has backed plans to speed up divorce following a Holyrood chamber debate.

Where the split is not contested, the separation period will shorten from two years to one and from five years to two where one partner contests the case.

A group of 34 MSPs failed to have the process restricted to 18 months and three years respectively.

The reform is one element of the Scottish Executive's Family Law Bill being debated at Holyrood on Thursday.

As MSPs made final stage three changes to the bill, Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry insisted the executive valued and recognised the "special status" of marriage.

Mr Henry also announced an extra 300,000 funding for conciliation services.

'Never easy'

However, he said other steps must be taken to protect children from protracted disputes, pointing out that a court must also be persuaded that the marriage had irretrievably broken.

"If the court considers that there is a reasonable prospect of reconciliation between the parties then it will not grant the divorce, so contrary to what may be said, divorce is never easy," he added.

The minister urged MSPs to opt for one and two years, insisting these timescales had not been "plucked from the air".

They were originally recommended by the Scottish Law Commission, had been in the public domain for more than a decade and had broad support among legal practitioners, he argued.

Changes to the divorce laws had proved to be the most contentious parts of the bill.

But the executive amendment shortening separation periods in uncontested cases to one year was passed by 91 votes to 34.

One abstention

The amendment shortening separation periods in contested cases to two years was passed by 93 votes to 31, with one abstention.

The provisions will also apply to civil partnerships.

The bill also gives new parental rights and responsibilities and rights to unmarried fathers who jointly register the child's birth and introduces new legal safeguards for couples who live together but are not married.

They will be entitled to some financial settlement should the relationship end.

Watch Brian Taylor's overview of the debate

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