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CALLING TIME ON THE ‘BLAME GAME’: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE CHANGES TO DIVORCE LAW IMPLEMENTED TODAY

Couples seeking to dissolve an unhappy union might face an easier process after this week, as the UK introduces a new ‘no fault’ divorce under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.  The changes come into force today (6th April 2022) and apply to marriages and civil partnerships.

Prior to these changes, spouses could only apply for divorce if they were able to prove that their marriage had irretrievably broken down, and they could prove one of the following five facts:

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Separated for two years, with consent
  • Separated for five years, without consent

With the exclusion of ‘separation’, an element of blame had to be put on the respondent, this risked escalating tensions at an already fraught time, and often caused even the most amicable of separations to turn sour.

The end of the ‘blame game’

Under the previous law, it was only possible to get a ‘no fault’ divorce after a period of separation, i.e., a two-year separation if agreed by the other spouse, and a five-year separation if there’s no agreement.

Following the changes this week, it’s no longer a requirement to place fault or blame on one another for divorce to be granted. Spouses can now apply for divorce solely on the basis that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and do not need to prove one of the five facts listed above.

The new law also prevents the divorce application from being contested by the other spouse. The intention is to now allow couples to pursue an amicable and cost-effective divorce, without the risk of it being contested and becoming an even more painful, drawn-out process.

Two ‘decrees’ of separation

The terms ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’ were previously used in law to signal two stages of the divorce proceedings, however, both have been flagged as dated and have been replaced with new terminology.

Under the new law, the term ‘decree nisi’ will be replaced by ‘conditional order’ and ‘decree absolute’ will be referred to as the ‘final order’.

In another linguistic change, the person applying for the divorce will now be referred to as the ‘applicant’ rather than the ‘petitioner’.

The new process

Under the new rules, an application order can be made, either by a single applicant, or jointly between the couple. After 20 weeks, if the applicant(s) still wish to proceed, a ‘conditional order’ will be made by the court. This period between the application and the conditional order is intended to allow a period of reflection for couples to consider their decision; it also allows the parties to resolve any childcare or financial matters.  Six weeks on from this, a ‘final order’ will be granted, and the marriage will legally be over, the whole process should take around six months.

The response

Many family lawyers welcome these changes. The aim is to simplify the process to reduce any conflict in an already emotional and difficult situation. By taking away the ‘fault’ element, the process should be less contentious, allowing focus on children and financial matters.

However, there are critics to the reforms; it’s argued that making the divorce process simpler harms the sanctity of marriage. Couples may be more inclined to get married, knowing that it will be easier to divorce. It could also be argued that it will encourage couples to opt for divorce instead of working on their relationship.

Divorce is an intensely emotional time for all involved, and the new laws should take some of the additional pressure off the process, facilitating a more amicable separation.  We can offer our customers advice and guidance on the legal aspects of divorce through our Legal Assistance Helpline which is available 365 days a year.

Caroline Hughes, Solicitor & Legal Assistance Helpline Team Manger

For further information on the above, or details of our products and services, please contact your Partnerships Manager or email [email protected].

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