The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 – finally the end of the “Blame Game”

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020

The most fundamental changes to the divorce law in almost 40 years will be implemented on 6th April 2022 when divorces can be started without one spouse having to blame the other or the need to wait for 2 or 5 years to elapse from the date parties separate.

People’s attitudes to marriage and divorce have changed considerably since 1973 when the current divorce laws were introduced. The new no fault divorce law aims to reduce potential conflict by stopping the parties apportioning blame which can exacerbate an already difficult and stressful situation. It is hoped that the new Act will increase the possibility of parties resolving matters more amicably.

The current law

Under the current law parties can only apply for a divorce if they can prove to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by relying on one of five different facts including unreasonable behaviour, adultery and living apart for 2 years. Reliance on these facts has given rise to a blame game or a situation where parties simply cannot move on with their lives.

At the moment only one spouse can apply for a divorce and divorces can be defended.

The new law

From 6 April 2022 all that will be required to start divorce proceedings is for either one or both spouses to file a statement with the court saying that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has broken down and the divorce will proceed.

It will no longer be possible to defend a divorce except in very specific situations eg if you wish to challenge the validity of the marriage.

The new system will apply to both marriages and civil partnerships.

Just like the current system you cannot apply for a divorce until you have been married for a year.

Timescale

It may take slightly longer to obtain a divorce under the new system as it will take a minimum of 6 months to obtain a divorce. The new system however will be simpler. There will be a “cooling off” period of 20 weeks after the initial application has been made during which time it is hoped the parties will reflect upon their decision to divorce. Parties may consider attending counselling, or may even reconcile; they will also have time to think about arrangements for children and financial matters.

After 20 weeks it will be possible to apply for a conditional order and after 6 weeks a final order can be applied for.

Change of Terminology

The wording used in the process has been updated. The person applying for the divorce will be called the applicant instead of the petitioner; the decree nisi will become the conditional order and the decree absolute will be called the final order.

Important dates

All divorces must be received by the court by 4.00pm on the 31st March.

From the 31st March until 6th April it will not be possible to apply for a divorce except in urgent cases.

From the 6th April new paper and digital services will be available and the new divorce law will apply.

We welcome the change to the divorce law and hope that it does have the effect of reducing conflict so that couples will be able to focus on the important issues of sorting out arrangements for the children and financial matters.

Our specialist family law team are all members of Resolution and aim to resolve matters in a conciliatory and constructive way. Please contact us and we shall be happy to assist if you have any divorce or family related issues that you would like to discuss.

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