HAILED as the biggest shake up in divorce law for 50 years, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is just weeks away from being implemented when it comes into force on 6 April.
The act seeks to end the “blame game” and reduce the impact that allegations of fault can have on separating couples and, in particular, their children.
Emma Davies, partner and solicitor specialising in family law at Nelsons, said: “The current divorce system in England and Wales requires one spouse, known as the petitioner, to initiate the process of filing for divorce and, in the process, make an accusation about the other party’s, known as the respondent, conduct.
“The petitioner can choose from three reasons – adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. If one of these can’t be proven, then the separating couple face a separation period of two or five years, during which time they have to live apart, before the marriage can be legally dissolved.”
How will the new legislation change the divorce process?
“The most significant change the new law has is that, instead of having to attribute blame to one party, a couple can mutually cite ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as the sole ground for wanting to obtain a divorce.
“This can either be done as a joint or individual statement. Either spouse will be able to provide a statement saying the marriage has broken down without having to provide further explanation or evidence.
“The divorce application will be made through an online portal. Additionally, there’s no opportunity for the respondent to defend or to cross apply for a divorce.
“Once an application has been made, the applicant has to wait until 20 weeks have elapsed to apply for a conditional order. This period allows both parties the opportunity to reflect on their decision to divorce and to consider the financial issues that need to be resolved as a result of their separation. The applicant can then apply for a divorce or dissolution final order after six weeks have elapsed from the date that the conditional order was made. Sometimes, however, it may be advantageous for them to delay applying for the final order until such time as they have resolved any financial issues relating to their divorce.”
Will the no-fault divorce law provide enhanced support to victims of domestic abuse?
“Another benefit of the new legislation is that victims of domestic abuse will no longer be trapped by their abusive spouses contesting a divorce. In the past, domestic abusers have taken advantage of the law by contesting an application to exercise further coercive control over their victim.”
Will the no-fault divorce law make the process cheaper?
“September 2021 saw the price of divorces rise due, to an increase in court fees in line with inflation. While it’s unlikely that the new legislation will impact fees, it’s worth keeping an eye out for firms offering fixed fee no-fault divorces, like Nelsons, as this provides people with peace of mind when it comes to knowing that there aren’t going to be any hidden or unexpected fees.”
Why does no-fault divorce matter?
“The previous law was passed in 1973, when people’s attitudes toward marriage and divorce were very different. Society has changed greatly since then but we’re still having to establish fault in the vast majority of cases as the legislation has remained the same.
“Despite the act representing a welcome change for many, there are concerns that removing blame and simplifying the process will lead to a spike in divorce cases. However, it’s been stressed that the focus of the new law will prevent situations that exacerbate conflict and harm to an already fragile relationship – particularly when it comes to dealing with other issues that often arise from the breakdown of a marriage, such as arrangements regarding any children.
“In modern society, it’s unfair for a couple to be forced to stay together if attempts to make the marriage work have been unsuccessful. That’s why a change in divorce law has been long-anticipated by many family lawyers, who consider the current law to be outdated and increase acrimony in what are already difficult circumstances.”
For more support when it comes to divorce and separation, please visit www.nelsonslaw.co.uk/divorce-and-separation.