The rules around divorce are changing. It is hoped that the new ‘no fault divorce’ will come into effect from 6 April 2022, following the passing of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act of 2020.
What is no fault divorce?
Currently, most divorces require one spouse to claim that the other is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, by alleging either adultery or unreasonable behaviour. The alternative is to live apart for a minimum of two or five years before the divorce process can be started, preventing separated couples from getting on with their lives.
New no fault divorce rules will only require the Applicant(s) to state that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, without assigning blame to either party.
Why are the rules changing?
No fault divorce has existed in parts of America since the late 1960s and in Australia since the mid 1970s, and organisations such as Resolution and others have been campaigning for it to be introduced in the UK since the 1990s. Reforms were finally prompted in large part due to a more recent case that hit the headlines after the Supreme Court refused to grant a woman’s appeal for divorce that was contested by her husband.
Under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act of 2020, divorce is still based on the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage, however it will no longer be necessary to prove any of the current five reasons for the breakdown.
What else is changing?
As well as no fault divorce, the 2020 Act introduces several other changes to the divorce process.
The terminology of divorce will be simplified, changing Petitioner to Applicant, Decree Nisi to Conditional Order and Decree Absolute to Final Order. The initial application, currently known as the Divorce Petition, will become an application for a “Divorce Order”.
A more radical change is the fact that both parties can now apply for the divorce together. The basic procedure will be that one or both parties will make the application for a divorce and will need to provide a statement to show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. If one party makes the application, the other party (the Respondent) will be required to provide an acknowledgement of service.
The court will be required to take the statement from the Applicant(s) to be conclusive evidence that the marriage is irretrievably broken down. There will no longer be any provision for anyone to challenge a divorce unless this is for reasons such as lack of jurisdiction of the court, if the marriage is not valid or is voidable, fraud and procedural non compliance.
How long will a no fault divorce take?
At present the standard advice is that a divorce can take up to 6 months (pre pandemic) and that this would depend on the level of co-operation of both parties. Under the new rules for the no fault divorce there is a “cooling off period”, which means that the application for the Conditional Order (Decree Nisi) cannot be made until 20 weeks after the application or the Divorce Order has been issued by the court. Thereafter there is still a 6 week period between the Conditional Order and the application for the Final Order (Decree Absolute) to actually end the marriage.
As with all divorces, if there are issues over arrangements for children or the matrimonial finances it is better to try and deal with these as soon as possible – there is no need to wait for the pronouncement of the Final Order (Decree Absolute).
How much will it cost?
At present the divorce petition fee is £550. You may be eligible for help with the cost if you are on a low income. At the moment it is not known whether the application fee will stay the same, or if it will rise.
At Cartridges Law we provide legal services for anyone navigating the end of a relationship. Contact us for an initial free conversation with a member of our divorce team.