Considered by many legal professionals to be one of the most significant changes to divorce law in England in half a century, new legislations took effect from 6th April, 2022 with the intention to help reduce the conflict between parties at they seek to terminate their marriage.
Broadly speaking, the legal community across the country has welcomed the introduction of the new Act and hope that it will allow couples to focus their attention on more important matters in a separation such as property, finances and the care and provision for any children.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 sees a number of significant changes, specifically removing the ability to make allegations about the conduct of a spouse and also allowing couples to end their marriage jointly.
Suzie Kavanagh is an Associate Solicitor at Milne Moser and specialises in Family Law: “Contrary to what a number of commentators outside of the legal sector may have implied, this new legislation is in no way a ‘quick and easy’ solution designed simply to fast-track cases through the Courts.”
“In fact, this is quite the opposite, and the Act incorporates a minimum 20-week timescale between the start of proceedings and application for conditional order [previously ‘decree nisi’] which is designed to allow a meaningful period of time where couples may reflect and have chance to reconsider whether divorce is the right solution.”
“Should divorce be inevitable then this period of time enables couples to plan for their futures and also that of any children.”
The ‘No Fault Divorce Law’ as the new Act has become referred to, removes the previously five accepted grounds for divorce:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Living apart for at least 2-years (spouse must agree inwriting)
- Living apart for at least 5-years (not requiring the consent of a spouse)
“A belief commonly held previously is that when someone has filed for divorce and if they could prove that their soon to be ex-spouse was at fault for the breakdown, then they could leverage this and benefit in any arrangements about children and financial or property settlements.” Adds Suzie. “In fact, this has never been the case.”
“Now, where there is unfortunately a breakdown in a marriage that is irretrievable, joint applications may be made by a couple under the new Act and no ‘blame’ needs to be apportioned.”
“There is also legislation which removes the possibility for either party to contest the divorce, something which historically has seen matters being incredibly drawn-out with the unnecessary financial implications and the emotional distress clear for all to see.”
In a move forward which is seen as aiding people’s understanding of the process for divorce, a number of key phrases have been changed to plain English, for example, ‘decree nisi’ now conditional order, with ‘decree absolute’ becoming final order.
The new divorce law covers both marriages and civil partnerships, and applicants may commence the process through an online ‘do it yourself’ system, however, Suzie still strongly advocates consulting with a solicitor before making any moves:
“Even though the 20-week ‘reflection period’ may seem like a long time and that having started the process that your minds are made up, there is a lot that can change and many key decisions to be agreed to ensure that the separation is as amicable and stress-free as possible for both parties.”
“Those key areas of finances, property and the care of any children – both now and in the future – have massive potential for contention and what could start as an amicable divorce could swiftly descend into an unpleasant and costly experience for all and one which has a lasting and irrevocable impact.”
“Milne Moser have been supporting families across the South Lakes and North Lancashire for over 200 years and seen numerous changes to the laws governing marriage break-ups and divorce and, across the generations, the one constant has been our unwavering commitment to support our clients throughout their challenging times. Whatever new legislation is introduced today and in the years ahead, you can be assured that this commitment will never change.”
No-fault Divorce (The Law Society)
New divorce laws will come into force from 6 April 2022 (Gov.uk)