Separation is never easy and relationships can often turn acrimonious very quickly with each party attempting to blame each other. On the 6th of April 2022, divorce laws in England and Wales are set to significantly change with the introduction of the highly anticipated Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. This is the most significant reform to divorce legislation since 1973.
Many family solicitors are of the view that the current law fails to reflect modern society, and that it forces couples to apportion blame at a time where emotions are already running high. Blame will often cause further hurt and anger which are not necessarily helpful emotions when looking at reaching agreement about what might be in the best interests of any children of the family or how best to deal with the division of marital assets. Under the current divorce regime, parties must show that their marriage has irretrievably broken down and to demonstrate this, they must rely on one of five facts, namely – adultery; unreasonable behaviour; desertion; five years’ separation or two years’ separation with consent. As it stands, separating couples, at best must wait two years to be able to formally divorce without having to attribute blame to one person. As the majority of people do not wish to place their lives on hold for that amount of time, they are often forced to look to the fault-based facts to evidence that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. This however, will all change with the introduction of the long awaited ‘no fault’ Divorce.
What does this new Act mean?
- From 6th April 2022, couples separating will no longer have to apportion blame. The no-fault based divorce process will see the removal of the requirement to meet one of five facts and instead, parties will simply be required to provide a statement to confirm that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. This statement can either be made solely by one party or by way of a joint statement. This means that if both parties are in agreement, they will now have the option of making a joint application.
- The new Act will remove the ability for one party to defend the decision to divorce. It is hoped that this change will help victims of domestic abuse.
- There will also be changes in respect of timescales. Under the new Act, there will be a 20-week period from the start of the proceedings to the point when the Applicant(s) can apply for a ‘Conditional Order.’ The Conditional Order will replace what has been previously referred to as the Decree Nisi. There will then be a 6-week until the ‘Final
Order’ can be granted (previously referred to as the Decree Absolute). The Government believes this will “ensure that there is a period of reflection, and where divorce is inevitable, provides a greater opportunity for couples to agree the practical arrangements for the future.” (Ministry of Justice Information Pack, ‘Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020’)
For couples who wish to divorce under the current procedure, an application must be submitted, at the latest, by 4pm 31st March 2022. There will then be a transitionary period of 5 days before the Act comes into force. During this time, divorce applications will not be considered unless urgent.
This new Act is set to significantly change the divorce process, arguably for the better. It is hoped that the new procedure will encourage couples to work together to resolve the issues which arise upon separation.
If you would like to receive advice or assistance in relation to a potential divorce or any other family-related matter, please contact either Cassie Greville or Nia Thomas for a free initial consultation of up to 30 minutes.