The introduction of a ‘no-fault’ divorce law will come into effect in England and Wales on 6 April 2022. The new ‘no-fault’ divorce laws are the most significant change to England’s divorce laws in 50 years! Most family lawyers are delighted that it has finally happened. The hope is that it will pave the way for divorcing couples to end their marriage with less stress and animosity given that couples will no longer need to blame each other for the breakdown of the marriage or need to give reasons as to why they are divorcing. In addition, for the very first time, couples will have the option to apply jointly for a divorce and divorces can no longer be defended on the basis of grounds.
It is clear that the aim is to try and reduce conflict between divorcing couples and hopefully strengthen their ability to reach agreement in other areas such as financial agreements and arrangements regarding any children they may have together.
The new law, which will come into effect from April 6, is part of a wider series of changes to the divorce process brought in by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.
It’s hoped that ‘no fault’ divorces in England will help couples save time and money compared to the old divorce procedure and it should hopefully end ‘the blame game’ culture in divorces. As well as removing the need for citing reasons for divorcing, the ‘no fault’ divorce law allows people to file for divorce even if one party does not want it. Furthermore, the new procedure includes time for reflection, but it reduces judicial discretion and places trust in the parties to decide if their marriage is truly over.
The old divorce law involved parties needing to provide one of five reasons as to why their marriage had broken down and those five reasons were as follows; adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation (if both agree), or five years separation (if only one person wants the divorce). This necessity has now been removed.
There was also often a misconceived belief when people filed for divorce that if they proved that their spouse was at fault for the breakdown of their marriage, it would benefit them in some way when it came to sorting out financial settlements and children arrangements, but that is not the case at all.
The new online service for applying for a divorce will be available from 6 April 2022. Couples must apply under the current law by 31 March 2022 or wait for the changes to come into force. The old service will be unavailable from 31 March 2022 whilst HMCTS prepare for the changes.
If you have an application saved on the current digital service then the deadline for submitting the application was by 4pm on 31 March 2022.
If you have not started an application and would like to start then you ought to wait until 6th April 2022 when the new services will be available.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 reforms the legal requirements and (MCA) process for divorce; it amends the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 rather than writes a new law.
The new divorce law covers marriage, civil partnership, nullity and judicial separation. The act aims to reduce the potential for conflict amongst divorcing couples by:
· removing the ability to make allegations about the conduct of a spouse
· allowing couples to end their marriage jointly
The act also introduces a new minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of divorce proceedings and the application for conditional order. The reason for this is that it should provide couples with a meaningful period of reflection and the chance to reconsider. However, where divorce is inevitable, it enables couples to cooperate and plan for the future.
It will no longer be possible to contest/defend a divorce, except on very exceptional and limited grounds including jurisdiction.
There will also be an opportunity to apply for divorce jointly, so parties can file ‘joint applications’ for divorce by agreement.
It must be remembered that ‘irretrievable breakdown’ remains the only basis of divorce which is the same as the old law.
It will take 26 weeks from the divorce petition being issued before the final divorce order can be made. There will still be separate decrees in the divorce process namely Decree Nisi at 20 weeks which is the conditional order and then Decree Absolute 6 weeks and 1 day later which is the final order.
In an attempt to change the culture during the divorce process, new language has been adopted under the new law, as follows:
- Divorce petition is now divorce application
- Petitioner is now the Applicant and Applicant 1 if it’s a joint application
- Divorce decrees are now divorce orders
- Decree Nisi is the conditional order
- Decree Absolute is the divorce order (which is likely to be known as the final order)
- Decree of nullity is a nullity of marriage order
- Decree of judicial separation is a judicial separation order
- A defended case will be known as a disputed case
Whether you’re applying via your family law solicitor or applying for a divorce yourself, you should remember that:
· from 31 March 2022 you can no longer apply on the current paper or digital systems or access a saved digital application which is yet to be issued by the court
· from 31 March to 5 April 2022 the digital service will not accept new applications so you cannot file new applications online
· from 6 April 2022 the new paper and digital services will be available
- No-fault divorce will come into practice on April 6 2022, with March 31 2022 being the last day you could have filed for divorce under the old system
- Rather than having to give one of five reasons for your marriage breaking down, you will need to give ‘notice’ that the relationship is over, which will start a ’20-week reflection period’
- After 20 weeks, you will be granted a conditional order (Decree Nisi), then you will have to wait a further six weeks before applying for the final order (Decree Absolute).