On 6 April 2022 the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force bringing with it a major overhaul of divorce law and procedure in England and Wales. This is the biggest change in divorce law in over 50 years.
The main changes are the end of apportioning blame when divorcing – i.e., ‘no fault’ divorce as it is often referred to; as well as the ability for couples to jointly apply.
Family lawyers, in particular members of Resolution (www.resolution.org.uk), have campaigned for these changes for many years; recognising the harm that can be done when couples have to allege blame for the breakdown of the marriage, in an otherwise amicable separation. This is particularly harmful where they are also trying to agree the arrangements for their children.
The Act will change the existing Court process for divorce and dissolution of civil partnerships.
There are changes to the terminology to make it easier for everyone to understand:
- ‘Petition,’ – the document to start the proceedings – becomes ‘Application’
- ‘Decree Nisi;’ – the Order that is made part way through the proceedings – becomes ‘Conditional order’
- ‘Decree Absolute;’ – the final Order to conclude the divorce and end the marriage or civil partnership – becomes ‘Final Order’
- Petitioner,’ – the person who started the proceedings – becomes ‘Applicant’
- ‘Respondent,’ – the other person in the proceedings – stays the same.
The procedural changes are that:
- The application for a divorce can either be made as a joint or sole application, so by one or both parties. It can start off in joint names and move to a sole application if one person is not progressing it
- The sole ground for divorce/dissolution will remain that the marriage/civil partnership has irretrievably broken down
- Instead of being based on the present ‘grounds’ of adultery, behaviour, desertion, 2 or 5 years separation, the only requirement is a statement of irretrievable breakdown; no further evidence will be required
- A defended divorce will be called a ‘disputed divorce’ and will only be allowed in limited circumstances; where there is a procedural or legal point, such as the Court not having the power to deal with the proceedings; fraud or a procedural non-compliance
- There will a minimum period of 20 weeks between starting the proceedings and applying for the Conditional Order. This is to give couples time to reflect on their decision
- There must be at least 6 weeks between the Conditional Order and applying for the Final Order. However, it is generally advisable to delay that application until a final financial Order has been made
Some aspects of the current law will stay the same including the rules that proceedings cannot take place within the 1st year of marriage/civil partnership.
The Court’s online divorce portal will be updated to take into account the changes and to also include dissolution of civil partnerships. The changeover dates have been published. The portal will close on 31 March 2022 and reopen with the new procedure on 6 April 2022. All paper applications by litigants in person have to arrive at the Court by 31 March 2022 to proceed under the current law. The only exception to this is for urgent applications received by post or email before 4pm on 5 April 2022.