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Biggest shake-up in divorce law in 150 years - and what it means for you

Jim Parker

Sophia Goodall is a Trainee Solicitor in the Family team at Wollens and writes this helpful guide to forthcoming changes in divorce law.

Going through a divorce can be an emotional and tense situation, let alone trying to negotiate matters on child arrangements and division of financial assets. However, if the start of the divorce is based upon blaming one spouse who is “at fault” for the cause of the marriage break down, then the whole tone is set for the course of the divorce and financial proceedings: hostile and adversarial.

In England and Wales, the implementation of the new “no fault” divorce laws, on April 6, 2022, are making sweeping changes to divorce proceedings which are summarised below:

Divorce can be granted without blame

There is only one ground for divorce – that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The irretrievable break down previously had to be proved by one of the five facts:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Separation for at least two years by consent
  • Separation for at least five years without consent

Adultery and unreasonable behaviour are the most contentious reasons for marriage break down and many people incorrectly believe that this will impact on the financial proceedings. Whilst financial proceedings are entirely separate to divorce proceedings, any resentment and blame as a result of the adultery or unreasonable behaviour can build up and increase tensions in an already difficult situation.

Now, couples will be able to obtain a divorce solely on the basis that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and will need to provide a written statement. There is no need to prove one of the five facts.

It was determined the language used was outdated and needed to be updated.

A divorce petition is now an application; a petitioner is now an applicant, the decree nisi is now a conditional order and the decree absolute is now a final order.

Couples can make a joint application for divorce

A couple has the option to make a joint application together for divorce rather than one spouse initiating it. A joint application can be converted to a sole application, but a sole application cannot be converted to a joint application. It is important to choose the right application process for you based on your solicitor’s advice.

A divorce can no longer be contested

The option to contest or defend a divorce application is removed (save on limited grounds unrelated to the breakdown of the marriage). It is hoped that by removing the blame/fault element that couples will be able to pursue an amicable divorce, without the fear of their application being contested.

Minimum of 20 weeks cooling off period

The new procedure will not be a “quickie divorce”. There is now a minimum timeframe of 20 weeks (5 months) between issuing the initial divorce application and the conditional order. This “cooling off” period has been introduced to give couples an opportunity to reflect before committing to the divorce.

Before applying for the final order, there is still the minimum time period of 6 weeks (and 1 day) from the date of the conditional order.

A welcome change

Family lawyers welcome the new divorce laws as it encourages a more collaborative approach. There was clearly a need for change as highlighted in the landmark case Owens v Owens [2018] UKSC 41. It is hoped that these “no fault” changes will reduce the conflict between divorcing spouses so they can focus on matters concerning children and finances.

Why Wollens ?

At Wollens, our experienced and highly skilled family law specialists can support and guide you through the divorce and financial proceedings. We aim to help you achieve the right outcome for you and your family that allows you to move on as quickly as possible.

Sophia Goodall is a Trainee Solicitor in the Family team.

Contact Sophia today on 01803 396618

or email sophia.goodall@wollens.co.uk

Email us : info@wollens.co.uk

call one of our offices:

South Devon     01803 213251

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