As of the 6th April 2022, new divorce laws came into use in England and Wales. The new reforms have been recognised as one of the biggest shake ups in divorce law, replacing the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act in 1973. While all the laws can be explained in the Wiselaw no-fault guide, we’ve compiled the key takeaways and ‘need to knows’ from the new rules which also covers civil partnerships and judicial separation as well as marriage.
The key change in divorce law
The most fundamental change is that now, instead of one divorcing party having to apportion blame on the other, there’s no requirement for a ‘reason’. This means that one person does not need to highlight that the other spouse was to blame for something that led to the end of the marriage with no leeway for allegations to be made about the other spouse. The idea is that any animosity is reduced between divorcing couples, making things quicker and easier all round.
What do we need to know about no-fault divorce?
- The removal of blame – as mentioned, couples are now able to get divorce without having to detail one of the five divorce grounds (this included unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion or living apart for two or five years. They will simply be able to specify ‘irretrievable breakdown’.
- The new legislation also means that couples have the option to apply jointly for a divorce, whereas before, it was the more adversarial ‘petitioner’ and ‘respondent’.
- Terminology has also changed with former wording now updated. The person applying for the divorce is no longer the petitioner, but the applicant, and instead of a decree nisi, it is ‘conditional order’ an ‘decree absolute’ will be known as a ‘final order’.
- The time frames are different too. Now there is now a minimum of 20 weeks from the submission of a divorce application until the final order being granted. This must be followed by a six week and one day period from the conditional order and applying for the final order. The idea is to introduce a period of reflection and time to reconsider if a divorce is the best path.
- There is no longer an avenue to contest a divorce. Previously, one spouse was able to petition for a divorce with one of the five reasons but now this has been removed. The idea is to prevent the possibility of one of the parties delaying the divorce process, as well as encouraging less expensive and time-consuming court processes.
What is the likely impact?
It’s too soon for the full impact of the laws to be examined but it is believed the new legislation will result in less conflict between couples, now that the need to apportion blame is no more. The positive knock-on effect may also be that other issues related to the divorce are dealt with more amicably as a result of a more cordial start, this in turn, could contribute to the more positive mental well-being of any children involved.
Couples should also be aware that the ending of a divorce is only one aspect that needs to be handled when dissolving a marriage or civil partnership. Financial matters are not included in this.
The new laws could again help by facilitating a more harmonious divorce from the beginning, opening the way for more amicable conversations about money and assets, the value of which will need to be discussed openly and honestly, ultimately requiring approval from the courts. The ease and speed of the new online application system could result in some divorcing couples applying too soon, without considering all the consequences. Initially, this could look like a cost-saving but in some cases, there can be negative financial implications once proceedings have started, especially if legal advice has not been taken. In addition, when a final order has been made before a financial order has been completed, there can be further problems related to financial assets such as property and pensions.
Despite the positive developments in divorce law, it’s always best to seek legal advice in the first instance to find out how your own personal circumstances could be affected.