The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which received royal assent this year, is due to come into force on 6 April 2022.
It marks an importance change in UK Divorce law. ‘No fault’ divorce will become an option for couples who wish to separate without the blame-game.
At present, there is only one ground for divorce, ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’, which needs to be supported by one of the five ‘facts’: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, separation for 2 years with consent, five years without consent and desertion. These had to be stated on the applicant’s divorce petition, meaning that one party blames the other for the breakdown of the marriage.
The new law is designed to reflect the reality that sometimes couple drift apart, and that both people no longer want to continue being legally bound to the other.
Instead of the five facts, there is simply now a ‘statement’ of irretrievable breakdown. It will be no longer possible to raise allegations of adultery or bad behaviour.
There are no grounds to oppose the divorce, aside from on the limited grounds of procedural irregularity (not serving the notice correctly), jurisdiction (arguing that the divorce should be brought in another country, not England and Wales) or challenging the existence of the marriage itself.
There is also a new route of a ‘joint application’. Both parties can produce a statement and submit it to the court. A joint application can then become a sole application, if one party feels that the other is ‘dragging their heels’ or does not take an active role in the proceedings.
The new timeline is as follows:
- Application for divorce with accompanying statement. There is then a 20-week waiting period before the applicant(s) can apply for conditional order for divorce
- The application must be served on the other party within 28 days. In joint cases, the court will send a copy of the notice to both parties.
- An acknowledgement of service, even in joint cases, must be returned to the court within 14 days. If the other party wishes to dispute the divorce on one of the limited grounds stated above, then must do so within 21 days of the Acknowledge of Service.
- After the 20 week waiting period, the applicant(s) can apply for the conditional divorce order (the old ‘decree nisi’).
- There is then a further 6 week waiting period before the conditional order can be made final (the old ‘decree absolute’).
The main purpose of the reforms is to reduce the conflict created by divorce, which should in turn alleviate stress and antagonism between not only the parties themselves but also with their children, if applicable.
The new regime may look like it makes divorce easier procedurally, as the statement of irretrievable breakdown appears to be more of a tickbox exercise and divorce can be applied for online, however you still cannot be divorced until after a year of marriage, and the waiting periods means that the whole process can take 26 weeks at the earliest.