On 6 April 2022, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force, and this will enable anyone seeking a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership, to petition without having to apportion blame on their spouse.
Under the current law, set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, anyone seeking a divorce has been required to satisfy the court that their relationship has irretrievably broken down by relying on one of the ‘five facts’ being adultery, unreasonable Behaviour, desertion, separation for a minimum of 2 years with consent of the other party and separation for a minimum of 5 years (no consent required). Numerous flaws were identified in this system and many legal professionals have felt for a number of years, that current divorce law is out of date.
A couple wanting a quick divorce had no option than to allocate blame upon one of them and deciding which party would ‘take the blame’, often created feelings of tension and animosity within even the most amicable separation. This on many occasions, also spilled over into negotiations regarding the division of assets and arrangements for their children. Issues also arose when one party to the marriage decided they no longer wanted to be married, but their spouse refused to accept this. Under the 1973 act, a respondent could file an answer to the petition denying the breakdown of the marriage if they were not satisfied with the fact relied upon by the petitioner, and this could result in the divorce being prevented entirely. This was the case in Owens v Owens (2018), whereby the Court’s refusal to allow the divorce essentially left Mrs Owens ‘stuck’ in an unhappy marriage until the five-year separation period had elapsed, and she was able to petition for divorce without his consent.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (2020) introduces ‘no fault’ divorce, and makes the following significant changes to Divorce law:
- Eradication of the ‘blame’ requirement: Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage will remain in place as the sole ground for divorce, however the requirement to evidence the breakdown by relying on one of the five facts is removed. Instead, a ‘Statement of Irretrievable Breakdown’ will be introduced. It is hoped that removing the need to make allegations about a spouse’s conduct, will allow couples to focus on amicable separation rather than allocating blame.
- Introduction of a Joint Application: Although individuals may still apply alone, the new law introduces the option for couples to make a joint application if they mutually agree the relationship has broken down. The introduction of this option aims to reduce the chances of unnecessary conflict being created.
- Removing the option to contest the application: The possibility of contesting the divorce is removed under the 2020 Act. The court takes the statement of irretrievable breakdown as concrete evidence that the marriage has broken down.
- Updating the language of Divorce: The new law will replace complex legal language with plain English, for example, the ‘petitioner’ will now be the ‘applicant’, ‘Decree Nisi’ will become ‘Conditional Order’, and ‘Decree Absolute’ will become ‘Final Order’.
- New Time limits: Although the new divorce process will remove delays in terms of minimum separation periods, a divorce or dissolution will not be awarded instantly. A new minimum 20-week period between the start of proceedings and pronouncement of ‘Conditional Order’ is introduced. The 6-week period between Conditional Order and Final Order is retained. This means that even a very smooth divorce will take at least six months to complete.