The divorce law in England and Wales will change next spring, says our Head of Family Law David Anstee, replacing the Matrimonial Causes Act which came into force in 1973.
For those whose memory stretches back that far, that’s the year Princess Anne married Captain Mark Phillips (divorced in 1992) and Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors married Charlie’s Angel Farah Fawcett (divorced in 1982). On a happier note, it’s good to see Sir Michael Caine and Shakira Baksh still going strong.
Few would doubt social attitudes have changed considerably in the intervening 48 years, and this long overdue change is to be welcomed.
The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act was due to be implemented this October. Due to technical issues, it will now come into force on April 6, 2022. Under the new law, the process of splitting up should be less confrontational for all involved. It should also be less expensive to pursue.
The problems with the current divorce law
Our current divorce system tends to encourage parties to identify someone as being at fault for the breakdown of a marriage, by relying on evidence of unreasonable behaviour. Hostility arising from arguments as to who was at fault can make the whole process long, costly and argumentative.
If there is no evidence of unreasonable behaviour, parties may have to wait up to two years until a divorce petition can be issued or five years without the consent of their partner. Currently, one individual may also contest the divorce, which can lead to lengthy legal battles.
The main changes
There are five important changes coming in April 2022:
Change 1: No-fault system
From next April, individuals will be able to rely solely on ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as the reason for wanting a divorce. They won’t have to prove this with one of the five facts (separation for two years with consent; five years without consent; unreasonable behaviour; desertion or adultery). This is a positive step as previously some individuals have admitted to fabricating unreasonable behaviour purely because it is the easiest way to get a divorce. The impact of this will hopefully be a more amicable approach to divorce which reflects modern social attitudes toward separation.
Change 2: Removal of possibility of contesting
Under the new law, it will no longer be possible for one party to contest the divorce. This will prevent the risk of one party delaying the process of getting a divorce until the point of five years separation. It is also likely this will avoid lengthy and expensive court battles.
Change 3: Joint applications for divorce
The new system will allow joint applications for divorce alongside the option for one party to initiate the process. This offers a mutual and less contentious option for couples who are both in agreement that a divorce should be pursued. Once again, this may remove some hostility from the process and allow couples to put aside their differences and mutually initiate the divorce process.
Change 4: Language
You may previously have heard the terms ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’. From Spring 2022, however, the former will be known as a ‘conditional order’ and the latter will be known as the ‘final order’.
Change 5: Timeframes
There will be a minimum timeframe of six months from the petition stage of the process to the final divorce. This period exists to allow for the possibility of reconciliation, giving couples the time to reflect on their decision to get a divorce. There will be 20 weeks from the petition stage to the conditional order and then a further six weeks until the final order. Although, the difference in the time it takes to get divorced will not change drastically from the spring.
What does this mean if you are considering divorce or separation?
Logically, if the separation process is less contentious under the new system, it is likely that legal costs will be lower as there is less chance of an expensive legal battle after the petition is issued.
It may be worth waiting until next spring to initiate the divorce process if your spouse does not consent to the divorce or there is no evidence of unreasonable behaviour within your relationship.
Speak to us at KWW at the earliest opportunity if you are considering getting divorced. We will be able to advise you based on your individual circumstances and provide detailed guidance on how to proceed with your petition.
Susannah Burley was the main contributor to this article, which was correct at the time of publishing. The article is for information purposes only and not intended as advice, which you should seek directly from David Anstee at KWW.