The UK Government admitted this summer (2021) that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill 2020, which will introduce ‘no-fault’ divorces into England and Wales will no longer be implemented this Autumn. Instead, the Government will be working towards a new date of 6th April 2022. The bill has already been passed through the House of Lords and will help to begin the process of a complete overhaul of divorce law in England and Wales. Implementing major changes which has not been seen for 50 years. Carole Nettleton, Cheshire based Divorce Solicitor, has helped to explain in further detail what a No-Fault Divorce is and what this will mean for divorce law in the future.
The Current Divorce Process in England and Wales
To understand the changes and what effect this will have on divorce law in England and Wales, it is important to understand the current divorce process.
Currently, in order to be granted a divorce, the family court must be provided with a reason as to why the marriage has irretrievably broken down, this must be at a point where the marriage can not be saved.
The current law states that one of five factors must be used as grounds for divorce, creating what many criticise to be a ‘blame game’. These factors are:
- Adultery – one party has committed adultery and the other party finds it intolerable to live with him/her.
- Unreasonable behaviour – one party has behaved in a way that the other cannot reasonably be expected to live with the other party.
- Two years separation with consent. – the parties have been living apart for at least two years and they agree to a divorce.
- Desertion for 2 years – where one party has deserted the other
- Five years separation – the parties have been living apart for at least five years and consent of the other party is not required
The changes to be implemented to Divorce Law in England and Wales
Once implemented, the new rules will change divorce law in England and Wales. The Divorce and Separation Act 2020, which received Royal Assent on 25th June 2020, will introduce no-fault divorce to the family law courts. As a result, both parties together or one party can apply for divorce based solely upon the fact the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. No longer will the five factors be relevant to filing for divorce. Either party will have the ability to provide a statement saying that the marriage has broken down without having to provide evidence of how or why. No longer will individuals have to play the ‘blame game’ in the eyes of the law.
This new bill will also allow applications to be made online, preventing the usual postal delays which many face currently. A defendant will not have to defend, neither cross apply for a divorce either.
Once the application process has been completed, the applicant will wait 20 weeks to apply for a conditional order. This time will allow for both parties to reflect on their decision before applying for a final order. The divorce or dissolution final order can be applied for six weeks after the conditional order was made. If financial matters are still being resolved during this time, the final order will not be accessible, until all matters are dealt with.
The discussion surrounding No-fault Divorce
Many lawyers have been lobbying for change to divorce law in England and Wales for years. The current law was established in 1973, during a time where marriage and the public attitude towards this was very different. In a society which is evolving continuously, for those in favour of the no-fault divorce, wish to see this change to modernise the current divorce laws. Bringing the law into the 21st Century. The Bill will take away the stress which many couples and families must face when filing for divorce. In an already difficult situation, the last thing many couples will want to do is blame one another for the marriage breaking down. Many hope that these changes will also have a positive impact upon other issues which arise as a result of divorce proceedings, including arrangements for children and family finances.
The Bill will implement a welcomed change for the majority of family law solicitors who wish to see the process simplified. However, discussions surrounding the changes have highlighted some concern for a rise in divorce cases – particularly as we continue to navigate a global pandemic.
Of course, trying mediation and all that can be done to prevent divorce in the first instance is always my preference.