After eagerly anticipating that “no-fault divorce” would become law in late summer/early autumn this year, it has finally been announced that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will come into force from 6 April 2022. This is certainly a welcome announcement for the many couples looking to divorce but who wish to keep matters between them as amicable as possible and who do not wish to seek to blame the other party for the relationship breakdown.
Although the Bill received Royal Assent on 25 June 2020, the Government finally confirmed yesterday that the Bill would become law on 6 April 2022 and stated that while any delay is unfortunate, it is necessary to ensure that all systems and guidance is in place by the time the new law comes into force. This includes enabling H M Courts & Tribunal Service, the Government body responsible for the administration of the courts in England and Wales, to make the necessary changes to their on-line divorce systems in readiness for the change. There will also need to be a significant amendment to the Family Procedure Rules (FPR 2010), the code of procedure followed by practitioners, insofar as it relates to the divorce process.
The current law regarding divorce procedure is governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and requires the party wishing to divorce to show to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The irretrievable breakdown must be “proved” by one of five facts:
- That the respondent (other party) has committed adultery and the petitioner (person issuing the divorce petition) finds it intolerable to live with the respondent.
- That the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent.
- That the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.
- That the petitioner and the respondent have been separated for a period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition, and the respondent consents to the divorce.
- That the petitioner and the respondent have been separated for a period of five years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.
The new legislation will allow either one party or both parties jointly to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown, removing the requirement to apportion blame in accordance with the five facts above, thereby assisting the parties to focus on an amicable separation and, if relevant to their specific case, the parenting arrangements for the children of the family.
Family law professionals have long been campaigning for a simpler, less acrimonious route to divorce, such campaign being spearheaded by Resolution (www.resolution.org.uk), an organisation comprising of family lawyers who believe a non-confrontational approach to resolving family disputes is far more effective.
It is worth noting that for any couples who had perhaps been waiting until later this year to commence their divorce proceedings, it is still worth having that initial discussion with your lawyer now about getting the ball rolling. Even if the divorce process itself cannot be commenced yet, couples might like to start thinking about the financial aspects of their divorce and seeking a settlement in relation to those issues, which can then be tied into the divorce at a later stage. At this stage, this may also include making a will in contemplation of divorce and possibly taking any necessary steps with regard to property.
If you are considering a divorce or separation, it’s important to get legal advice and understand your options. For further information, please contact our family solicitors.