Married couples will be able to start divorce proceedings without having to apportion the blame for the breakdown of their marriage as no-fault divorce legislation comes into force in England and Wales.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (2020), represents the biggest shake up in divorce law for more than half a century. It ends completely the need for separating couples to apportion blame for the breakdown of their marriage, helping them to instead focus on key practical decisions involving children or their finances and look to the future.
Previously, one spouse was forced to make accusations about the other’s conduct, such as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or adultery, or face years of separation before a divorce could be granted. This was regardless of whether a couple had made a mutual decision to separate.
The changes mean that a spouse, or a couple jointly, can now apply for divorce by stating their marriage has broken down irretrievably. It removes unnecessary acrimony at a time where emotions are already running high.
The Act also introduces a new minimum timeframe of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and when individuals may apply for a conditional order of divorce. This will offer time to reflect, and potentially turn back, or where reconciliation is not possible to agree important arrangements for the future – such as those involving children, finance and property.
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said:
The breakdown of a marriage can be agonising for all involved, especially children. We want to reduce the acrimony couples endure and end the anguish that children suffer.
That’s why we are allowing couples to apply for divorce without having to prove fault, ending the blame game, where a marriage has broken down irretrievably, and enabling couples to move on with their lives without the bitter wrangling of an adversarial divorce process.
Specifically, the measures from the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act that come into force today include:
- Replacing the current requirement to evidence either a conduct or separation ‘fact’ with the provision of a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (for the first time, couples can opt to make this a joint statement).
- Removing the possibility of disputing the decision to divorce, as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, except on limited technical grounds.
- Introducing a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to a conditional order of divorce being made, allowing greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible and divorce is inevitable.
- Simplifying the language of divorce to make it more understandable. This includes replacing the terms ‘decree nisi’, ‘decree absolute’ and ‘petitioner’, with ‘conditional order’, ‘final order’ and ‘applicant’.
Following the implementation of the Act the government has also committed to look into further the law around financial settlements after a divorce, such as the dividing of assets or maintenance payments.