Divorce law in England and Wales has remained unchanged for almost 50 years, but is about to alter radically with the introduction of “no-fault” divorce. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is due to come in to force in spring 2022. Family lawyers, who have campaigned for many years to modernise the out-dated system, have welcomed this step.
At present, couples unwilling to wait 2 years for the consent of the other spouse or 5 years if the other spouse does not consent, must “blame” the other for the breakdown of their relationship. They must either give examples of the other’s behaviour to show that it would be unreasonable to be expected to continue to live with them or cite adultery within the divorce petition.
Under the new law, a spouse or a couple may apply jointly for a divorce by making a statement of irretrievable breakdown. Allegations of the other’s behaviour and the need to “blame” the other will no longer be required.
The aim is to reduce hostility and to encourage separating couples and their children to move forwards in a more conciliatory way. A joint application will reinforce mutual co-operation.
Where a couple has drifted apart, they will no longer need to wait 2 or 5 years.
One spouse will not be able to contest a divorce if the other spouse wants a divorce because the statement of irretrievable breakdown will prove a marriage has irretrievably broken down. This will make the process more straightforward and in some cases more cost-effective.
A new timetable of at least 20 weeks will be obligatory from the start of proceedings to granting a divorce, giving time to reflect and agree practical arrangements, such as those for the children.
The terminology will become more user-friendly. Decree Nisi will become a “Conditional Divorce Order” and Decree Absolute a “Final Divorce Order”.
However, the whole process will not necessarily become quicker. A spouse will continue to need to be advised to agree the financial aspects of their marriage before applying for the Final Divorce Order. Resolving financial matters remains a separate process and an agreement needs to be set out in a consent order and sealed by the court to provide certainty for the future.
It is important to seek advice early on to agree a strategy to resolve both divorce and financial aspects in a timely and cost-proportionate way.
Wace Morgan’s very experienced Family Department is open for business and we are able to accommodate meetings by telephone and by Zoom as alternatives to face-to-face meetings. Please contact Sue Leach on 01743 284218 if you require any further information.