6th April 2022 sees the introduction of the ‘no fault’ divorce in England and Wales. This is quite a shake up of current legislation and will make a significant difference to married couples seeking a divorce.
Under current law, you can achieve a ‘no fault’ divorce with the consent of both parties if you have been separated for two years, or without consent from the other party, 5 years. The need to ‘blame’ the other party can lead to additional negativity, stress and, in some cases, a breakdown of any remaining communication. And in the most extreme cases, one partner could keep the other trapped in a marriage (possibly abusive) for five years before being able to seek a divorce. Relate states, ‘the problem with our fault-based divorce system is that it actively encourages couples to assign blame, increasing animosity between partners. Crucially, this in turn does nothing to reduce conflict between parents, which we know is damaging for children…’
So, what are the changes and how could they help those seeking a divorce?
1. Grounds for divorce
There will no longer be the requirement to place ‘blame’ on one or other party. If an ‘irretrievable breakdown’ can be proven, there will be grounds for a divorce.
2. Contesting the divorce
One or other party will no longer be able to contest a divorce petition.
3. Petitioning for a divorce
The law will no longer require there to be a petitioner; both parties will be able to apply jointly.
A minimum time of 20 weeks between the beginning of proceedings to issuing the Conditional Order has been set. The Final Order can then be issued 6 weeks after that, meaning that the quickest timescale achievable for a divorce under new legislation will be 26 weeks.
The ‘Decree Nisi’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ will be renamed as the Conditional Order and Final Order.
What difference will these changes make?
The new legislation is intended to take some of the unnecessary ‘heat’ out of divorce. Without the need to find ‘blame’, couples will be able to focus more calmly and clearly on other matters such as the children, the home and the financials.
The language used is also intended to make the whole process more accessible, and the timeframes will enable things to move forward in a timely fashion, whilst also giving a mandatory breathing space of 20 weeks (up to the Conditional Order), for the couple to reflect.
Divorce is undoubtedly a stressful and emotional time for couples and families but by reducing the potential for tension, the process can only be improved.