In June 2021, the Divorce Dissolution and Separation Bill received Royal Assent and became an Act of Parliament, marking one of the biggest changes in the law relating to divorce in over 200 years. The Divorce and Dissolution Act 2020 is set to come into force on 6th April 2022 and effectively removes the whole concept of fault within divorce proceedings. The push for this change has been led mainly by Resolution, a group of family lawyers who believe that the most constructive approach to family law issues is non-confrontational and that this leads to more positive outcomes for all involved.
Why is this happening?
As times have moved on, there has been an increasing sense that the existing law relating to divorce and dissolution (which is the equivalent of divorce but for a civil partnership of same-sex couples) is outdated and that the very process and procedure causes unnecessary hostility and stress in what is already a difficult situation. It is hoped that the new law will enable couples not to fall into the ‘blame game’, which the setup of the current law tends to lend itself to, and that it will simplify the journey and make it easier for couples to focus on the more substantial issues i.e. financial and children matters.
What is changing?
Facts and consent
Under the existing law (the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973) a divorce Petition has to be based on one of five “facts”: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, 2 years’ separation with consent, 2 years’ desertion and 5 years’ separation. These “facts” are used to establish the only ground for divorce - that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. There is an expectation on the other party to engage with the process and in some instances the divorce is halted altogether e.g. if the other party does not admit to the adultery or does not provide express consent. There is also space given for the divorce itself to be contested. The new law will simply require one party to provide a statement explaining why they feel that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, without any facts having to be proved. There will be no need for the other party to agree, although it will be possible for parties to present a joint statement. The new law will also remove any possibility of contesting the divorce.
The new law will introduce more modern and accessible language, as opposed to the current Latin-rooted terms. The equivalent of ‘decree nisi’ will be called ‘conditional order’ and the equivalent of ‘decree absolute’ will be called ‘final order’. The title given to individuals submitting the application will be ‘Applicant’ in place of ‘Petitioner’.
The new law seeks to set a different timeframe including a 20-week ‘period of reflection’, meaning proceedings could be completed from start to finish in about 26 weeks. The encouragement will still be to resolve any outstanding financial matters before the divorce is finalised.
The current court fee for submitting a divorce Petition is £550. It is likely that this fee will be reduced, although no details have been released yet.
How will this affect me?
The changes essentially mean that if you seek a divorce, the process will be easier, smoother and probably faster. If your spouse or civil partner seeks to divorce you, you will have no basis on which to dispute it.
It remains to be seen how the new law will affect the number of divorces that happen. However it is true to say that with a simpler, more streamlined process, divorces will be more accessible and easier to obtain. Due to the removal of fault there will be less stigma and less drama attached meaning that it will become more of a ‘go to’ option for couples experiencing difficulties in their relationship.