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Changes to divorce and dissolution legislation 21/09/2020

In June 2020, the government passed the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which is expected to come into force in Autumn 2021.

Current legislation provides only one ground for divorce in England and Wales: that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The Petitioner (the person applying for the divorce) must rely on one of five facts to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage:

  • The adultery of their spouse (the Respondent)
  • Unreasonable behaviour: that their partner has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her
  • Desertion for a continuous period of at least two years
  • Two years' separation, with the consent of both the Petitioner and the Respondent
  • Five years' separation, where the consent of the Respondent is not required

The dissolution of civil partnerships relies on the same ground and facts, except that a partner's adultery cannot be used.

The new Act still rests on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, but will replace the five facts with a statement of irretrievable breakdown. This can be provided by one of the parties or jointly, with the removal of the apportionment of fault or blame likely to lead to reduced conflict between separating partners. Separating couples will also be allowed to submit divorce petitions jointly.

In addition, the new Act will remove the opportunity for the Respondent to contest the divorce or dissolution, significantly shortening the length of separation before a relationship is legally concluded. Challenge to the process will only be available based on very limited technicalities, such as the validity of the marriage or jurisdiction. This will remove the possibility, such as in the 2018 case of Owens v Owens, that one spouse has to wait for five years to leave a marriage that has broken down where their partner will not provide consent to the divorce.

The language of divorce law is also changing, with a view to making it simpler for parties to understand. The Decree Nisi – the document that says that the court does not see any reason why you cannot divorce – will be known as a Conditional Divorce Order under the new Act. The Decree Absolute, which legally ends a marriage, will be replaced with a Final Divorce Order. Petitioners will be known as Applicants.

The minimum period between commencement of proceedings and submitting an application to the court for a Conditional Divorce Order will lengthen to 20 weeks (from six weeks and one day), and a minimum of six months must pass between lodging a petition for divorce or dissolution and its finalisation.

These reforms have been influenced by years of campaigning by members of Resolution, an organisation of family justice professionals who encourage their clients to approach divorce or dissolution in a constructive and collaborative manner. Manor Law Family Solicitors are members of Resolution.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 7977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.
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