This year is scheduled to see the much-anticipated reform of our outdated divorce laws.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is expected to come into force in late autumn, and will bring to an end the need for couples to apportion blame for the breakdown of their marriage.   Currently, the only way of avoiding the “blame game” is to separate for at least two years, even if both parties agree that the marriage is over.

The new law

The new law will be based on the simple filing of a statement of irretrievable breakdown of marriage, which can be made either by one spouse or both of them together.   There will follow a minimum timeframe of six months before a divorce will be granted.  There will be a period of twenty weeks before the granting of a “Conditional Order” (currently the Decree Nisi) and then a further six weeks before the making of the “Final Order” (currently the Decree Absolute).

This means that a divorce may take a little longer than a simple divorce can take now, but the intention is to allow couples time to reflect and potentially reconcile, and to agree important arrangements for the future.  It won’t be possible to prevent the divorce from happening, as is the case at present, unless there have been certain legal or procedural irregularities.

Good news for families

These reforms are undoubtedly good news for divorcing couples and their families. Time and money will be saved as this element of the divorce process is simplified and conflict and animosity reduced without the need to point the finger of blame or wait for the two years separation period to pass. This should help couples to focus on what really matters: agreeing arrangements for their children and finding financial solutions.

Should I divorce now, or wait for the new law to come into force?

Without a fixed date in place yet, and given that a divorce under the new rules will take at least six months (it won’t be a “quickie divorce”), it is unlikely to benefit most couples who are facing difficulties which need to be resolved now to wait for the new regime.

It could however be a solution for those who have no blame-based grounds to divorce now, or do not wish to apportion blame out of mutual respect, and will be waiting for the requisite separation period to elapse in any event. Some might feel that the ability to file a joint application is symbolically important and worth waiting for too.

It is important to bear in mind that there is a lot that has to be done to prepare for the implementation of the new law, with new rules drafted and agreed, new forms and procedures sorted out and changes made to the online divorce process. It could therefore even be early next year before this regime is available.

As always, it is a good idea to discuss your own particular situation with an expert family lawyer to ensure your decision is right for you and your family.