The biggest change in divorce law in our lifetime is now set to become a reality as the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill receives Royal Assent, first promised by the government in April 2018. Family lawyers up and down the country are delighted that the bill has reached the end of its parliamentary journey after years of campaigning.
The change means that couples in England and Wales will no longer have to assign blame in order to be granted a divorce. Something which could help reduce conflict between separating couples and encourage families to look to the future rather than taking part in the "blame game".
So what is current divorce process?
The main piece of legislation dealing with divorce is the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. In order to obtain a divorce you need to prove that the marriage has been broken down irretrievably. This can be proven by relying upon one or more of the following facts:
- "Unreasonable behaviour"
- 2 years separation with consent
- 5 years separation
As you will see, three of the facts are based on a period of separation. If this does not apply to your circumstances you must rely upon either adultery or "unreasonable behaviour". Unreasonable behaviour is the ground that is most commonly cited on divorce. Due to the very nature of these facts, the system is fault-based and relies upon one party apportioning blame to the other.
How will no fault divorce change the system?
Instead of having to apportion blame, couples will be able to simply say that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. This can be done jointly or individually. Under the new system, there must be a minimum six-month period between the lodging of a petition to the divorce being made final.
When will this come into effect?
It will take some time for things to get up and running as there will need be a number of changes to the rules, procedure and forms so that no fault divorce can be implemented. It is hoped that couples will be able to obtain a no fault divorce from Autumn 2021.
However, there are those who remain concerned about the changes and how the process will actually work in terms of the six-month notice period. The Law Society have suggested that the six month period should begin when the divorce application is received by the respondent rather than when the divorce is applied for. They argue that this would ensure that the couple are on the same page from the start and would have sufficient time to seek legal and financial advice. They have asked the government to consider their concerns in and it may be that the finer details will be tweaked before it is fully implemented.
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*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice.