Landmark divorce law changes

In what has been hailed as the biggest shakeup of divorce law in 50 years, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act is due to come into force on 6 April 2022. This landmark act will introduce the long-awaited concept of ‘no-fault’ divorce, ending the removal of fault or blame into which many couples are currently forced in order to go their separate ways.

In this article, we offer a summary of the key changes, which also apply to civil partnerships, that couples can expect.

Ending the blame game

Under current divorce law, a couple can only get divorced if they have been married for at least a year and can prove their marriage has broken down irretrievably due to one of five ‘grounds’, these being adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion (for at least two years) and separation (for at least two years if you both agree or at least five years without the need for consent).

Under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, however, couples will be able to file for divorce without having to apportion blame, and one party can apply for a divorce without the other spouse’s agreement – there will be no option to contest. On the other side of the coin, a new option will be introduced allowing both spouses to file jointly and amicably for divorce, which is not permitted under the current law.

More inclusive language

The legal jargon surrounding many official processes has been branded as out of date and exclusory; for this reason, the new divorce system will discard the Latin-based terms in current use, i.e. Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute. These will be changed to Conditional Order and Final Order, respectively, to refer to the initial and final stages of the divorce process.

A ‘meaningful period of reflection’

The new legislation will also introduce a 20-week period that must be observed between when the divorce application is filed with the court and when the couple can apply for a conditional order. This, known as the period of ‘meaningful reflection’, is in practice likely to serve as a period during which the couple can work to resolve any disagreements about financial issues or arrangements regarding children.  If after that period, the couple still wish to divorce, they must confirm this to the court when they apply for the Final Order.  There will be a period of 6 weeks between the Conditional Order and Final Order being passed.  This will mean that the minimum period for a couple to be fully divorced is after 26 weeks (6 months), please note that this could be longer accounting for processing time and administration.

A no fault divorce is not going to make the process any quicker than one based on fault, however, it is hoped that this will enable couples to remain where possible on amicable terms with their ex-spouse.  It is envisaged that this will have a positive impact upon deciding on arrangements for children or dividing up matrimonial assets.

In our experience of dealing with divorcing and separating couples it is always beneficial to seek advice at the outset to save unnecessary costs and difficulties later on down the line.

Sympathetic, experienced family lawyers

For expert and up-to-date legal advice on the forthcoming divorce law changes, please get in touch with our Family Law team at family@woodfines.co.uk or 0344 967 2505.

 

Eloise Wilson 

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