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The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is due to come into force on 6th April 2022. The new legislation will implement significant changes to Family Procedure Rules and supporting practice directions, as well as key new procedures. The ultimate goal of the reforms, the government says, is to streamline the legal process of divorce, dissolution or separation and improve the service offered by the courts to couples going through this process.
Outgoing 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 new Act still rests on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably but replaces 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 now be allowed to submit divorce petitions jointly.
In addition, the new Act removes 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 is only 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 must 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 has also changed, with a view to making it simpler for parties to understand. The document previously known as the Decree Nisi – which says that the court does not see any reason why you cannot divorce – is now to be known as a Conditional Divorce Order. The old Decree Absolute, which legally ends a marriage, is now a Final Divorce Order. Petitioners will henceforth be known as Applicants.
The minimum period between commencement of proceedings and submitting an application to the court for a Conditional Divorce Order lengthens to 20 weeks (previously six weeks and one day), and a minimum of six months must have passed between lodging a petition for divorce or dissolution and its finalisation.
HM Government’s Divorce Service will close at 4pm on 31st March 2022 to enable applications submitted before the new divorce law to be issued in time. Applications under the old legislation will not be able to be submitted between 31st March 2022 and 6th April 2022 except on paper or by email to the Divorce Centre in Bury St Edmunds. The replacement service for new applications is due to launch on 6th April 2022.
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.Back to Law Articles