COUPLES will be able to apply for a divorce one year after getting married, following a Legco ruling yesterday. Before the passage of the Matrimonial Causes (Amendment) Bill yesterday, a couple could not obtain a divorce until three years after their wedding. Secretary for Home Affairs Michael Suen Ming-yeung said the underlying objective of the new bill was to reduce the hardship, acrimony and distress that so often accompanied divorce proceedings. The bill also provides for the introduction of a new 'non-adversarial' means of obtaining a divorce by joint application based on either one year's prior separation or one year's period of notice. Before the new arrangements are in place, divorce proceedings must continue to be conducted on an adversarial basis, with one party as petitioner and the other party as respondent. Mr Suen said that under the one-year-notice procedure, the couple was not obliged to separate. 'This will mitigate difficulties caused by the current requirement to find separate accommodation in advance of a divorce where prior separation is relied on in divorce proceedings,' he said. But the Democratic Party attempted to amend the bill so that the time restriction on divorce early in marriage would be set at two years rather than one. The party's amendment was defeated by 27 votes to 20. Moving the amendment, Democratic Party legislator the Reverend Fung Chi-wood said his party's proposal would give more time for newly wed couples to save their marriages before resorting to a divorce. But Liberal Party legislator Miriam Lau Kin-yee said she did not see how a marriage could be saved by waiting for one more year. 'If a couple decides to divorce, it would not help to change anything by waiting,' she said. Mr Suen said the Government remained of the opinion that the one-year period proposed by the Law Reform Commission was appropriate. 'The proposed two-year time bar will create undue hardship to couples whose marriages have genuinely broken down irretrievably at an early stage,' he said. Mr Suen said the Democratic Party's proposal was inconsistent with the bill because it provided for separation for one year to be sufficient evidence of marital breakdown where both parties consented to the divorce. Mr Suen said a shorter time restriction would not encourage divorce. 'I would like to point out that elsewhere such a reduction in the time restriction on divorce early in marriage has not resulted in a significant change in the long-term divorce rate,' he said.