Major shake-up of divorce laws

The law relating to how a married couple are to divorce will be changing from 6 April 2022. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill received Royal Assent in June 2020 which provides for a “no-fault”divorce. Family lawyers have finally been rewarded for their campaign over many years for this change of approach.

Why is the law changing?

Currently, the law relating to the divorce procedure was made in the early 1970’s and is contained within the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Whilst this provides for one ground, namely that the marriage must have irretrievably broken down, there is a requirement to prove that by one of the following facts:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • 2 years desertion
  • 2 years separation with consent
  • 5 years separation

This currently means that one party must make the application against the other and that it cannot be made through mutual agreement until the parties have been separated for at least two years, which many individuals consider is too long to wait when they may have resolved financial matters and wish to move on with their lives.

When a marriage breaks down there will often be tensions between the parties and the need to “blame” the other often heightens those tensions which have been shown to have damaging consequences for children of the parties where not managed appropriately.

As family lawyers, and members of Resolution (an organisation committed to promoting a non-adversarial approach to family law) we do our best to manage the divorce process sensibly to minimise any detrimental effect on the children, and we have campaigned for many years to allow couples the choice to divorce together if they wish to do so and to remove the need to “blame” the other.

So, what is changing?

As with any new Act, there is the introduction of new language, so the decree nisi and decree absolute will be replaced by a conditional order and a final order respectively.

From 6 April 2022 married couples and those within a civil partnership can obtain a divorce or dissolution without having to “blame” the other party. The couple can either sign a joint statement that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down or one party can file a sole statement.

The statement will be considered as conclusive proof that the marriage is over. The filing of the statement will also prevent a spouse from contesting the divorce.

Once the statement has been filed there will be a 20 week “cooling off” period, after which a conditional order will be granted by the courts, and 6 weeks later a final order can be applied for which will end the marriage or civil partnership.

These periods of time have been included as safeguards to ensure that time is given for consideration of proper arrangements for children and finances. Whilst this may require separate proceedings to resolve, it is hoped and expected that by removing the “fault” aspect of the divorce it will promote better communication between the parties.

No divorce is easy, but we believe the new process will make it less adversarial and promote a more positive and efficient process. It is hoped that it will encourage couples to be more collaborative and less confrontational.

Individuals can now manage the existing process online themselves through the Government gateway, however before doing so I would suggest that you give me or one of my team at The Family Law Practice a call, we are an experienced and specialist team who will guide you safely through the separation process, ensuring that all matters relating to the family can be addressed.

This article first appeared in Bristol Life on page 79.

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