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No fault divorce update

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 was passed into law on 25 June 2020 however, there is still no clear timeframe as to when no-fault divorces will be introduced.

It is anticipated that the new legislation could be applicable from autumn 2021 once various court procedures have been put in place to accommodate the changes.

The Government announced no-fault divorces were to become law in the UK following a widespread consultation which took place back in 2018 on reforming the law, and there was considerable support for changes to be made, to help make divorce less confrontational and acrimonious.

A new minimum time period of 20 weeks will be introduced between when the divorce application is filed with the court and before the parties can apply for a Conditional Order. If they still wish to divorce after this 20-week period, they must confirm this with the court when they apply for the Conditional Order. This Conditional Order will not be made a Final Order until at least six weeks have passed, so the process could be speeded up to take 26 weeks.

The new legislation will remove the need for a separating couple to wait for up to five years or allocate blame for the end of their marriage.

Currently under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in England & Wales, anyone seeking a divorce must be able to prove that their partner is at fault for the end of the marriage through either adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour or if both parties agree after two years of separation. Otherwise they have to wait until they have been living apart for five years.

The Government also plans to:

  • Allow couples to give notice jointly.
  • Allow joint applications to become sole applications and vice versa.
  • Remove the ability for one person to contest a divorce.
  • Modernise the language used in the divorce process.

These changes along with the two-step process and 26-week time frame would also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.

Julie Hobson, Partner at Gullands Solicitors comments: “For a long time there have been calls to change the divorce laws here in the UK for the wider benefit of the family, as if divorce is made a less acrimonious process, former spouses could be encouraged to make more rational and reasonable decisions regarding the day to day care of any children of the marriage and the division of finances. It is hoped the introduction of no-fault divorce means couples are less likely to become enemies.”

The UK Government has been slow to make changes to its divorce laws despite pressure from the legal sector. Sweden for example introduced no fault and mutual divorce back in 1973.

Julie Hobson concludes: “Anything which helps remove the anger, frustration and tension for divorcing couples can only be a good thing, allowing family solicitors to mediate and help an agreement to be reached. Rather than fighting over every point, efforts can be focused in the future on reaching a beneficial solution for all. This will help to enable everyone to move on with their lives and for a family with children to still function in the future without a process that currently encourages hostility.”

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