There is a big change coming to divorce law in England & Wales on 6th April 2022 which will alter the landscape of divorce as we know it. Lauren Rigby, solicitor in the Family Team here at Howell Jones looks at what those changes are and aims to provide you with all the information you need to navigate these new changes.
The current law governing divorce in England and Wales has been in place for 50 years and arguably is now out of touch with modern society. With the law as it stands today, there is one ground for divorce – that the marriage has broken down irretrievably – and petitioners then select the most fitting of 5 facts to support their divorce. The 5 facts that petitioners can rely on under the current regime are a mixture of fault and no-fault, however, the requirement for lengthy periods of separation for the non-fault options means that most petitions are filed on the basis of Adultery or Unreasonable Behaviour. This means that if a couple want to get divorced, they either have to live separately for at least 2 years or one spouse has to ‘take the blame’. The breakdown of a marriage is rarely one-sided and having to effectively place the blame solely on one spouse can lead to increased feelings of anger, frustration and hostility at an already highly emotional time.
All this is about to change. On 6th April 2022 the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force. The ground for divorce is not changing (i.e. the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage) however, this new legislation eradicates the need for an extended period of separation and the need to allocate blame in the hope that this will lead to a straight-forward, efficient process and more amicable divorces.
New Legislation Changes
There will be 5 main changes under the new legislation:
Currently, the spouse filing for divorce is called the Petitioner. Under the new law they will be known as the Applicant and the Divorce Petition will be re-named as the Application for Divorce. The First Decree of Divorce is currently known as the ‘Decree Nisi’ and the final Decree is called the ‘Decree Absolute’, these are changing to be more ‘user friendly’ and will be known as the ‘Conditional Divorce Order’ and ‘Final Divorce Order’, respectively.
There will be a minimum of 20 weeks between the application for divorce being filed at Court and the date on which the Conditional Decree of Divorce can be applied for. The idea behind this is to allow for a period of reflection between the parties, and also so that arrangements as to the finances and any children can start being resolved. The period of 6 weeks and 1 day before the Final Decree of Divorce can be applied for remains. Therefore, the divorce process alone from start to finish will take at least 6 months – although in practice this is not going to feel very different to the current process as very few divorces are resolved in less than 6 months due to either unresolved financial arrangements and/or Court delays.
Under the new regime, it will be possible for spouses to file a joint application for divorce. This is to promote a more collaborative approach to divorce which will hopefully carry on through the process of the parties’ financial separation. Also, from a psychological perspective, joint applications may be beneficial to the parties and help preserve an amicable relationship – which is of particular importance when there are children involved.
No defended Divorces
It will no longer be possible for a Respondent to contest the divorce. Under the new law, one party citing that the marriage has irretrievably broken down will be taken by the Court as conclusive. There will, however, still be some limited circumstances whereby the Divorce can be challenged, such as the invalidity of the marriage itself, fraud or a lack of jurisdiction.
Removal of blame
Spouses will no longer need to allocate blame or select one of the five facts in order to divorce. Instead, it will be possible for one (or both) spouses to cite that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.
This long-awaited, and some may say long overdue, reform will take effect from 10 am on 6th April 2022. The deadline for filing petitions under the current law is 4 pm on 31st March 2022. The Court fee for filing an application for divorce will remain at £593.00.
It is important to remember that the changes in legislation apply only to the divorce itself and does not deal with each party’s financial claims against each other, and parties will still need to take steps to resolve the financial issues alongside the divorce proceedings.
Our approachable and professional divorce lawyers here at Howell Jones are fully abreast of the upcoming changes and have a wealth of experience dealing with Family Law matters. If you would like to find out more about these changes or you are thinking of getting divorced, please get in touch with one of our family law solicitors and we will be able to can set you on the right legal path to help you navigate this often complex area.
Meet Lauren Rigby
Lauren Rigby holds an LLB (Hons) from the University of Southampton and completed her Legal Practice Course with Masters at the University of Law, Guildford. She qualified as a solicitor in 2019 at McMillan Williams (now Taylor Rose MW) and joined Howell Jones in 2021.
Lauren advises on all aspects of Family Law including divorce, separation, financial settlements, children and pre and postnuptial agreements.
In her spare time, Lauren enjoys spending time with friends, reading and travelling.