Changes to Divorce Law

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The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020

The beginning of 6th April 2022, brings about new changes to legislation on divorce. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, changes the legal requirements for divorce and the process of divorce. The aim is to reduce tension between couples during this period. 

Allegations of the spouses conduct will no longer be portrayed in court and couples can jointly agree to end their marriage. Additionally, the legislation introduces a minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and application for a conditional order. There are also six weeks between the conditional and final orders. These periods seek to provide a means for couples to reconcile and possibly reconsider going ahead. If the divorce is inevitable it also enables couples to plan and cooperate for the future. 

No-fault based law

The previous regime was seen as a blame game, in which section 1(2), Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 required marriage to be irretrievably broken down on five grounds:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Unreasonable behavior
  • Two years separation (with consent)
  • Five years separation (without consent)

There were many difficulties with some of the grounds being subjective such as unreasonable behavior and having to wait two years to amicably agree divorce. 

The new law introduces a no-fault based procedure, by replacing these grounds with a single mechanism. All that is required now is for one spouse to provide a legal statement to say the marriage has broken down irretrievably. This statement counts as conclusive evidence and cannot be contested.

New language 

The new reforms have also seen changes in language. A “Decree Nisi” will now be known as a Conditional Decree, and “Decree Absolute” will now be known as a Final Decree.  The aim is to neutralise the phraseology and make the process reconciliatory.

Changes to the application procedure

  1. An online application or Form D8 must be completed by the party requesting divorce and be filed at their regional divorce centre. Under the new procedure couples can now file the form jointly. They will instead need to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown of marriage or a joint statement, if both parties have applied for a divorce.
  2. Acknowledgement of service must be sent within 8 days of receiving the application form if filed by post, or 7 days if submitted online. The opposing party can no longer contest the divorce.
  3. Conditional decree; the penultimate stage of the process which represents that neither party disputes the proceedings and that the court sees no issue with a divorce being granted. A statement of support based on the old grounds of divorce is no longer required. 
  4. Final decree; Final checks on whether time limits have been followed. After this the marriage is at an end.

Time limits

Practitioners should be aware that they must submit divorce applications they wish to issue under the current law by 4pm on 31 March 2022. HMCTS online service will not permit applications after the deadline. The online service for making an application will effectively re-open for applications under the new law at 10am on 6 April 2022.

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