The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill 2020 concluded it’s passage through the House of Commons last week, thereafter receiving Royal Assent and will now become the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.
The Act introduces the concept of no fault divorce and brings the UK’s divorce laws into the 21st Century, in line with many other countries.
Current law on divorce
The current law on divorce is set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. This Act states that there is only one ground for a divorce and that is that ‘the marriage has irretrievably broken down’. Currently however, that irretrievable breakdown has to be supported by one of five facts. Only two of those facts enable a divorce petition to be issued immediately after separation and those are “adultery” and “unreasonable behaviour” . Both of those facts require an element of blame from one party to the other. The remaining three facts require a period of separation between the date of separation and the presentation of the petition and they are “desertion for a period of two years”, “two year separation where both parties consent” and a “five year separation where consent is not required”.
No more blame game
Following the introduction of the new Act, a party wishing to proceed with a divorce will still need to declare that the marriage has irretrievably broken down but it will no longer be necessary to cite many paragraphs setting out the other’s unreasonable behaviour – one or both parties will simply need to give a statement to the court confirming the marriage has irretrievably broken down and the court are obliged to accept that statement.
There will be a minimum 20 week period from the date that the divorce petition has been issued to the date of the Conditional Order (now known as decree nisi) and the six week period from that Conditional Order to Final Order (now known as decree absolute) will still apply. Therefore there will be a minimum time period of 26 weeks before a divorce can be finalised. It is thought that this was introduced to alleviate the concerns of those who thought that making the divorce process too easy would lead to a change in the nature of commitment made when marrying, because those doing so may feel that they will be able to exit quickly and easily.
Most family lawyers very much welcome the introduction of this Act. The commencement of the divorce process will often set the tone for the rest of the negotiations and it is far better if this can be done as amicably and as cost effectively as possible, particularly where there are children involved. Clients often want to bring their marriage to an end simply because they have fallen out of love or grown apart and this Act now enables them to now do so.
There is also a common misconception that conduct within a marriage will have a bearing upon any ancillary proceedings – for example “he/she had an affair so I should receive more”. Unless such conduct has had a financial impact upon the marriage or, the conduct leads to a potential safeguarding concern in relation to the children, then the court would not take such conduct into account in any other proceedings. Hopefully these more streamlined divorce rules will remove any ambiguity in this respect also.
It is not known when the Act will come into force, but it is anticipated that it will be autumn 2021.
Hodge, Jones & Allen Solicitors have a number of specialist divorce lawyers and we are able to provide advice and assistance based upon the current divorce laws and all other aspects of family law, always ensuring the matters are dealt with as amicably and as cost effectively as possible.