Our article in February 2019, detailed significant changes that were being considered for UK divorce law. At the time, the UK Government was consulting on changes following a proposal to introduce ‘no-fault divorces’.
Three years later, new legislation is set to be implemented on April 6th 2022, representing the first major change in legislation in this area of law since 1973. Couples will be able to separate without having to blame each other for the breakdown of the relationship, in a move to facilitate a more amicable separation.
The need to provide evidence of unreasonable behaviour, adultery, having lived apart for two years or desertion will no longer be required. This will be replaced with the requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership.
By removing the need to ‘play the blame game’, the changes will help reduce conflict between couples who are separating amicably. It will be possible for the application for divorce, dissolution or separation to be made jointly by both parties, with the option remaining for one of the parties to make a sole application.
Read more: What is the Most Common Reason for Divorce?
Appetite for divorce law change has risen after the case of Tini Owens. In July 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that 68-year-old Mrs Owens could not divorce her 78-year-old husband of forty years until a period of five years had passed, despite living separate lives since 2015.
She claimed the marriage was ‘loveless’ and had ‘broken down’ after an affair she had several years ago, but Mr Owens refused to agree to a divorce and denied all claims that he had also acted unreasonably. The court denied the divorce ‘with reluctance’ and Lord Wilson indicated a divorce would be possible in 2020.
Read more: The Supreme Court Rejects Tini Owens’ Appeal to be Granted a Divorce
More Legislation Detail
There will be a minimum twenty week period between the divorce application and the granting of the Conditional Order (revised term for Decree Nisi). Once the Conditional Order has been granted there will be a period of six weeks and one day before the Final Order (revised term for Decree Absolute) can be applied for.
The purpose of extending the overall timeframe was to lengthen the period of reflection or provide the parties with an opportunity to agree a plan for the future with regard to the finances and child arrangements. The option to defend an application for divorce or dissolution is to be removed. The application will only be able to be disputed if the validity of the marriage or the jurisdiction of the court is in question.
Both judges and solicitors have long called for reform. The implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is hoped to encourage separating couples to co-operate to ensure the separation is as harmonious as possible.
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