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The government has announced that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, originally due to come into force in Autumn 2021, will now 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.
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 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.Back to Law Articles