In the UK there is only one ground for divorce; the parties have to demonstrate that the relationship has broken down irretrievably.  There is a burden on the party applying for divorce to prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably by relying on one of the following facts:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion for at least 2 years
  4. Separation for at least 2 years with the consent of both parties
  5. Separation of at least 5 years (the consent of the other party is not required)

It is widely regarded that the requirement of one party to blame the other causes divorce proceedings to begin on a potentially acrimonious footing, with one party having to ‘blame’ the other for the marriage breakdown.

Consequently, the government was encouraged to review the way in which couples can divorce and, in February 2019, the concept of a ‘no-fault divorce’ was announced in England and Wales.  The introduction of the ‘no-fault divorce’ was planned to be in autumn 2021 but with Brexit and the global pandemic taking centre stage, this has been pushed back until April 2022.

How will no-fault divorce work?

What we know

 The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which introduces no-fault divorce, will:

  • Remove the need for blame to initiate divorce;
  • Amend the language used in proceedings to be more accessible to the public:
    • ‘Petitioner’ will become ‘Applicant’
    • ‘Decree Nisi’ will become ‘Conditional Order’
    • ‘Decree Absolute’ will become ‘Final Order’
  • Introduce the concept of joint applications;
  • Remove the ability to contest divorce, dissolution or separation proceedings;
  • Introduce a new ‘reflection period’ – a minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to when the Conditional Order can be made.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will not change the grounds on which you can divorce i.e. the one ground of divorce will remain as irretrievable breakdown.  As is the case currently, there will still remain a 6-week period between the Conditional Order and when the Final Order can be made.

What we do not know

 We do not know:

  • How much the new process will cost. The Law Society have indicated that they believe the Court fee should become cheaper with the introduction of the new system but this is yet to be confirmed.
  • Whether the rules on costs will remain unchanged. Currently, the Respondent can be ordered to pay the Petitioner’s costs in a fault based Petition.  It is unclear whether this will be amended in light of the changes.

 What does this mean for you?

 No more of the ‘blame game’ – parties who intend to proceed with an amicable divorce will be given this opportunity from the outset;

  • If both parties agree, they can make a joint application which promotes amicability;
  • Couples will have to wait 6 months for their divorce or dissolution to be finalised to allow a period of reflection. During this time, the parties can make separate arrangements for:
    • Agreeing financial arrangements
    • Affirming child contact and residence

Under the current regime, divorce applications rarely conclude prior to the financial arrangements being finalised.  The new minimum time frame should not affect proceedings significantly.

The Law Society hopes that the proposed changes should simplify current practices and reduce conflict between couples.

Although the act received Royal Assent in June 2020, the reforms have not yet come into force. The government is still working on implementing the changes.  No doubt there will be further amendments and clarifications before the introduction of the new regime which is expected to take place in April 2022.

For a free initial consultation to discuss your options if you are considering filing for divorce, please contact the Family Department on 01264 400500.

Our contributor

Hannah Abbott

Solicitor

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