The government announced on 7th June 2021 that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 which was expected to come into force in Autumn 2021 will will be delayed for several months until 6 April 2022.
The Act introduces the biggest reform in divorce law for 50 years, enabling couples to issue divorce proceedings immediately without relying on a fault-based petition and without blaming the other party.
Below we look at the implications of the UK divorce law reforms and explain how the new no-fault divorce will work in practice in England and Wales.
Current Divorce system
The current divorce process is fault-based as it requires a spouse to place blame on the other in order to obtain a divorce in England and Wales. The spouse is required to rely on one of five facts to prove the ground for divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. These facts are:
a) Unreasonable behaviour
d) Separation of at least two years
e) Separation of at least five years
Two of the five legally recognised reasons; Adultery and Unreasonable behaviour are fault based as they require one party to accuse the conduct of the other for the breakdown of a marriage under the current law.
Why does Divorce Law need reform?
The law has been criticised for many years for being outdated and creating unnecessary conflict between couples. Divorce is already a very stressful time for couples and the additional element of ‘blame’ creates further animosity between them. Fault-based divorce forces couples to play the ‘blame game’ and prove their grievances which is why it needed to be reformed.
Owens v Owens
The case of Owens v Owens was a clear example of why the law needed to be reformed in respect to divorce. Mrs Owens was denied the right to divorce her husband as she had failed to convince the court that her marriage had broken down irretrievably. This resulted in Mrs Owen having to rely on the five-year separation without consent, despite being trapped in an unhappy marriage. This case highlighted the need for reform as it showed how outdated the current law is by not keeping in line with the modern thinking in regard to divorce.
How will the no-fault divorce laws change things?
1. Divorce can be granted without a spouse placing blame on the other
The divorce law reforms, once implemented, will mean that a party will not have to place blame on the other for the divorce. A couple will be able to mutually cite ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as the only ground for obtaining a divorce, as opposed to relying on one of the five reasons.
2. Couples will be able to apply for divorce jointly
Under current laws, one spouse needs to issue divorce proceedings against the other. The person who starts the divorce is called the Petitioner and the other person is called the Respondent. Under the no fault divorce system, both people will be able to make the application jointly.
3. Remove the ability to contest a divorce, dissolution or separation
Currently, a spouse is allowed to contest a divorce petition. Under the new reforms, this will be removed. A spouse will not be able to challenge the divorce or dissolution and cannot force them to go to court which will essentially save time, costs and be less stressful.
4. Introduce a minimum period of 20 weeks between application and divorce becoming final
A minimum timeframe of 20 weeks (4.6 months) has been introduced to give couples time to consider their decision. This period of reflection will give couples an opportunity to reflect and work through their differences before committing to a divorce.
The reformed divorce system focuses on removing the element of ‘blame’ which means the process will be less stressful and will avoid increased conflict. It will also help the co-parenting which may be taking place after the marriage has dissolved. The new laws will remove some delays in the initial stages of issuing the divorce, but it is not solely offering speedier divorces as the divorce procedure has a built in cooling off period. This is intended to allow a period of time for reflection and time to resolve any financial and children matters.
Our divorce lawyers can also help with both contested and uncontested divorce under the current system. We’ll support you through the process from start to finish, so that it’s as straightforward as possible. If your divorce is uncontested, meaning you both agree to the divorce, you can even start your divorce online.