It’s been a long time coming, but no-fault divorce will finally be made available in England and Wales from April 2022 when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force. The new law will remove the need for couples to choose between making allegations about each other’s conduct, or facing years of separation before a divorce or dissolution can be granted.
Under the new regime, which reforms a system largely unchanged for almost 50 years, separating couples will no longer need to evidence one of a choice of prescribed facts to prove that their marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down.
Currently, a married couple must live separately for a minimum of two years before being able to divorce without one needing to rely on the grounds of either adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Couples in a civil partnership are faced with a similar choice, though they are not able to rely on adultery as a ground for dissolution. This routinely forces couples to choose between enduring lengthy delays or the apportionment of blame, despite the fact both parties agree their marriage is over.
From April 2022, however, couples will be able to make a joint application for divorce or dissolution, with both parties indicating they agree that the marriage is at an end. It is hoped this will reduce unnecessary conflict, and allow separating couples to focus on moving forward amicably.
The main changes coming into force are as follows:
- There will no longer be a requirement to cite any reason for the breakdown of a marriage, and couples will be able to divorce solely on the grounds that the marriage has broken down;
- A joint application to divorce can be made, removing the need for one spouse to issue proceedings against the other. It will also be possible to make an individual application where this is more appropriate;
- It will no longer be possible for one party to contest a divorce, which in some cases has allowed abusers to continue to exert control over their victims;
- The previous terminology of ‘Decree Nisi’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ will be replaced by the new terms ‘Conditional Order’ and ‘Final Order’;
- A 20-week window between an initial application to divorce and the court granting a provisional decree of divorce (a ‘Conditional Order’) will be introduced. This is intended to ensure there is a meaningful period of reflection for couples;
- There will be a six-week period between the granting of a Conditional Order and a Final Order, when the marriage or civil partnership is legally ended.
With a fixed date for the introduction of the new regime now in place, some couples may wish to wait. Perhaps particularly those who have no blame-based grounds to divorce now, or who 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.
Others may be facing urgent difficulties which cannot wait to be resolved under the new regime. 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.
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.