Kerry Moynihan (Student)
The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (“The Act”) came into force on 6th of April 2022. The Act is a substantial change to divorce law within England and Wales and is the biggest change to divorce law in 50 years. The Act establishes that divorce applications can be made through a ‘no fault divorce procedure’, instead of the previous need to rely on facts to prove the breakdown of the marriage.
Prior to the Act, you had to prove that the marriage had broken down by relying upon one of five facts: behaviour, adultery, separation for 2 years with consent, desertion or separation for 5 years without the need for consent. This meant that if couples seeking a divorce could not prove one of these facts, they risked having to stay married for a minimum of 2 years even whilst separated. Unreasonable behaviour was most commonly used as it covered many types of behaviour, however, as spouses would need to provide information on the circumstances of the behaviour of their spouse, it was seen to be a ‘blame game’. The former Justice Secretary Rt Hon Robert Buckland stated: “By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”
The only two criteria that need to be satisfied under the new act is: the marriage needs to have been for a minimum of one year and that it has irretrievably broken down. If both of the criteria are met the parties would be able to obtain a no-fault divorce. There is now no need to explain why the marriage has broken down irretrievably, eliminating the need for extra stress in the situation by blaming the other person. The new rules will also allow for divorce proceedings to be made as a joint claim. Under the previous act only one person could make an application, however, the new joint applications will help to allow for amicable divorces. This may benefit many people who agree on the relationship breakdown and want to avoid costly legal fees. Data provided by HM Courts & Tribunal Services suggested that there has been an increase as much as 50% in divorce applications since the no-fault divorce procedure was introduced.
Under the old act there would only be a wait of around 6 weeks between the Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute. Under the new law there will be a minimum 20 week wait between the application being submitted and finalised, this is to give both parties the chance to reflect on whether they want to continue with the divorce or if they would like to cease their application. Moreover, a no-fault divorce cannot be contested, this will help ensure those who are in a toxic relationship are not forced to stay in the marriage. There are only specific circumstances in which a divorce can be contested such as if the courts do not have jurisdiction to deal with the divorce.
Outdated language has also been removed from the divorce procedure, terms such as: ‘Decree Nisi’ will become a ‘Conditional order’, ‘Decree Absolute’ will become a ‘Final order’ and ‘The Petitioner’ will become ‘The Applicant’. This is to help ensure that the language used is easier for litigants in person to understand.
Here at SULAC we offer free legal advice on all family matters including divorce and financial affairs. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk