National MPs accept domestic abuse victim's petition to change divorce law

National MPs Chris Bishop, Simon Bridges and Chris Penk have met with a domestic abuse victim to accept her petition to change divorce law she describes as archaic. 

Ashley Jones, the woman behind a petition to Parliament with more than 5000 signatures, wants the law changed so that abuse victims can get a divorce immediately rather than have to wait two years. 

At present, married or civil union partners have to be officially separated for at least two years before either party can apply for a divorce, formally known as a dissolution. 

"As a victim of abuse, this is really important to me. I was married and have left that relationship. I just feel like our laws are a system that's allowing the power and control to continue. It's really important to me to be the voice for others and make this change happen," Jones told Newshub on Wednesday.

"I would like to see the two-year stand-down be reduced or removed for those that are victims of abuse. Many other countries overseas have done this, so to me it seems like not a big ask for us to move forward with the rest of the world."

A list compiled by Jones and the Women's Refuge shows how far behind New Zealand is. In Norway, those on the receiving end of attempted murder, "maltreatment" or even just behaviour that suggests the possibility of either can get an instant divorce. It's been that way since 1991.

In Iceland, a divorce can be granted immediately if your partner has an affair or commits sexual violence against you or your children. In the UK physical violence and verbal abuse are grounds for an instant divorce, without a two-year separation. 

Bishop described it as a no-brainer. He was approached by Jones about the issues as the MP for Hutt South in the last term of Parliament. The seat is now held by Labour's Ginny Andersen. 

"When I first got told about it, I actually couldn't believe that was the law. I assumed we had changed it, to be honest, and so it just seems like a no-brainer and very sensible to me," Bishop told Newshub.

National MPs Chris Penk, Chris Bishop and Simon Bridges accept Ashley Jones' petition.
National MPs Chris Penk, Chris Bishop and Simon Bridges accept Ashley Jones' petition. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"I'm in Parliament to try and change the law for the better and I really take pride in trying to sponsor Member's Bills and pick up issues that just seem very sensible that hopefully Parliament can get behind. 

"So I'm very hopeful that this petition is the start of a process towards changing the law."

Bishop says he's currently drafting a Member's Bill to put effect to what the petition calls for. 

"The petition will hopefully be considered by Parliament's Justice Select Committee and there'll be a chance for people to go along and make submissions on this very important issue.

"I'm certainly going to get on with it. There's a lot of things happening at Parliament but the welfare of people who have sadly been victims of abuse are obviously very important."

Jones said it couldn't come soon enough. 

"It's been a long road. I'm yet to file for divorce. That's next year's problem. But it's just that emotional connection. Abuse is founded on power and control and I feel like having to stay tied to someone for two years allows that power and control to continue in many capacities, and emotionally that freedom would be life-changing."

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi says it's not an issue that's been raised with him. 

"Look, I'm aware of the petition... no consideration yet. If it's going to go to a select committee, we'll wait to see what comes back from it," he told Newshub. 

"I'm not sure if it's been a major concern... At this stage the petition has come through, we'll let the select committee do their work."

Faafoi agreed that the 1981 law is getting outdated, but he has no plans to act on Jones' suggestion until it has been looked at by a select committee. 

"It's old but I think we'll wait for the select committee to see if they agree with the petition or not."