On the 6th April 2022, new divorce laws came into force, which herald the largest shake-up of divorce reforms in half a century. Known as the new “No Fault Divorce”, there have been big changes to the legal requirements and process for getting a divorce.
The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has been designed to reduce the potential conflict between the parties associated with a divorce. The purpose is to align divorce law with the government’s approach to family justice, which aims to avoid confrontation especially where children are involved. The new rules will make it easier for couples and individuals to apply without the same opportunity for dispute, giving a lifeline to those who may be trapped in abusive marriages.
The main changes to divorce law
There are four main changes to divorce law, as follows:
Evidence of poor conduct or separation is no longer needed. Previously, you would have had to state that the marriage had irretrievably broken down, together with providing a permissible reason for the breakdown against the other party. This could have included adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, a minimum period of 2 years separation (both parties would have to agree), or 5 years separation if this applied. Now, one spouse alone, or indeed jointly as a couple, can make a single statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This can now be the sole grounds for filing a divorce and no further statement of fact is required to be relied upon.
Removes the possibility of disputing the decision to divorce, except on technical grounds. Once a statement has been made that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, this removes the possibility of a spouse being able to contest the divorce and delay the proceedings.
The actual process for obtaining a divorce will be very similar to the previous process, except that a minimum cooling off period of 20 weeks has been introduced. This begins at the start of the divorce proceedings and finishes when the Court grants the conditional order of divorce in case a couple decide to change their mind.
The Petitioner (the person or couple requesting the divorce) will also now be known as the Applicant.
The conditional order of divorce replaces the old “decree nisi” (the provisional decree at the start of the divorce) and the Final Order replaces the “decree absolute” (when the divorce was finalised).
In the past, the Court needed to be satisfied that legal and procedural requirements had been met before granting a divorce. They would consider factors such as permissible reasons for the divorce and whether one spouse was contesting the divorce. Whilst the legal and procedural requirements must still be adhered to, the Court no longer needs to consider the reasons for the divorce.
Why have the divorce rules changed?
There are many reasons why the new no-fault divorce has been introduced. The new law was announced in February 2019 as part of the biggest reform of divorce law in over 50 years. The main aim in to reduce animosity between the parties and to encourage parties to work together, especially when a couple have children.
A further aim is to stop an abuser contesting a divorce when their spouse wants to go ahead in the case of domestic abuse. This should help to prevent coercive abusers exercising extra control over their victims and needlessly delaying proceedings.
As there is no longer a need to contest a divorce, the new rules also remove the ‘blame game’ aspect of the divorce process. Previously, one spouse would have to make an allegation against the other, such as citing bad behaviour or a defined period of separation. This added a confrontational element to an already emotive situation, often reducing the chances of an amicable divorce.
Although a seemingly small measure, the ability to allow for a joint statement to be made by a couple when applying for a divorce also encourages an amicable split. In the past, the divorce process had an in-built imbalance that undermined a couple’s attempt to divorce amicably. Now, couples can apply together and avoid having to make any allegations against each other.
The 20-week cooling off period gives couples the chance to reverse proceedings if they change their minds. It’s been called a “meaningful period of reflection”, and it also allows more time for couples to make practical arrangements, especially if they have children. This is also helpful in respect of reaching agreement on financial matters.
You can no longer apply for a divorce using the old process. The government has set up a new paper and digital process for divorce applications. Before applying for a divorce, always seek advice from a specialist family solicitor, so you understand the process. It’s important to put financial agreements in place to divide your assets, money and property, and most importantly of all, to make sure you have suitable child arrangements.
If you need advice on any aspect of divorce, please get in touch or email: Carly.Price@shbsolicitors.co.uk to arrange a face-to-face or telephone appointment.