After decades of campaigns for a no fault divorce, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill obtained Royal Assent in June 2020 and no fault divorces are coming into legal effect on 6th April 2022 joining a number of other jurisdictions, such as Australia, Canada and some US states, who already have no fault divorce laws.
What does the new divorce law replace?
The government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will reform the divorce process to remove the concept of apportioning blame. Under the previous law, there were 5 grounds on which a spouse would prove the irretrievable breakdown of marriage: -
- Unreasonable Behaviour
- 2 years separation with consent of the other spouse
- 5 years separation without consent of the other party
These grounds will be removed and the only requirement for a divorce will be for at least one spouse to provide a legal statement to say the marriage has broken down irretrievably to start the divorce proceedings. This statement counts as conclusive evidence and cannot be contested. Divorce proceedings can now only be challenged on jurisdiction grounds, the validity of the marriage or certain grounds including fraud and coercion.
By removing the requirement to assert fault or blame onto the other party, this will reduce the pressure and stress that is often experienced by children during a divorce. Not only is the process smoother and easier to complete, but children are less likely to be become caught up in conflict caused by the proceedings.
The spouse who is applying for a divorce will now be known as the “applicant” and not the “petitioner” as they are currently known. Divorce petitions will now be known as divorce applications.
There will no longer be a Decree Nisi or a Decree Absolute. A Decree Nisi will be now known as a Conditional Order and a Decree Absolute will be known as a Final Order.
The new divorce process
Following submission of the statement to say the marriage has irretrievably broken down, the new law introduces a ‘minimum period’ of 20 weeks in the divorce and dissolution proceedings after which the applicant(s) may apply for a conditional order. This ensures 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 including any financial settlements.
After the 20 week period, the Conditional Order will be granted by the courts and then there will be an additional 6 week period before the Final Order is granted. The Final Order will terminate the marriage or civil partnership. This 6 week period will allow parties to apply to the court for approval of their agreed financial settlement. This means that the divorce process will take a minimum of 6 months, or 26 weeks, to be finalised.
A major change under the new law is that couples can make a joint application for a divorce and the Conditional Order and Final Order can be applied for jointly as well as individually. Introducing joint applications removes the adversarial element of divorce and reflects the fact that sometimes separation is a mutual decision.
These changes are a very welcome reform to the present laws, which will help to reduce conflict and enable divorcing spouses to move forward without having to attribute blame for the breakdown of the marriage in the divorce process.
If you require independent legal advice please do not hesitate to contact our Family & Matrimonial team by phone on 01329 282841 or 023 9249 2300 or by email at [email protected].
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