No fault divorce is coming – 5 things you need to know
Next month, the new "no fault" divorce will come in effect in England and Wales. The legislation has already been passed, as the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (DDSA 2020). Applications under the current system will not be accepted after 4pm on 31 March 2022, and the new digital-based system will start on 6th April 2022.
Top 5 changes for divorce in the UK
Here are the five key things you need to know about the new system if you are considering getting a divorce.
1. No more blame game
When you apply for a divorce, you do not need to blame your spouse partner in any way. You can divorce on the single basis that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. The new system removes the need to give one of the five existing reasons for divorce. However, it also removes the opportunity to tell the full story behind the reasons for the divorce.
2. You can jointly apply for a divorce
At the moment, one spouse or civil partner needs to start divorce proceedings against the other. The new no fault divorce will allow you to make a joint application together. A sole application can still be made, which could benefit those in an acrimonious, abusive or controlling relationship.
3. A divorce cannot be contested
Under the current system, if you don't agree that you should get divorced, you can contest the application. In the past, this meant that the divorce could be 'blocked' by one party, as in the case of Tini Owens. After 6th April 2022, neither spouse can contest a divorce save for on very narrow grounds relating to jurisdiction and validity. This will particularly help spouses escape from abusive or controlling relationships more easily.
4. Changes in the wording used in divorce
Under the new system, much of the old-fashioned terms used in a divorce application are replaced, making it much easier to understand.
The person applying for the divorce:
previous term = petitioner
new term = applicant
Stages in your divorce:
previous term = decree nisi
new term = conditional order
previous term = decree absolute
new term = final order
5. A new minimum timeframe
Divorce under the new system will take longer. There is now a minimum wait of 20 weeks between when your application is made and the conditional order. This "period of reflection", aka cooling off period, is meant to give couples time to potentially work through their differences before the divorce goes through. There will still be a minimum six-week period between the issue of the conditional order and the final order.
Divorce goes digital
Behind the scenes, there are also significant changes to the way that divorce papers are filed. A new digital system will be in place such that divorce applications can only be made online. Only in a very limited set of circumstances will paper forms be accepted.
It's important to say that this new digital system is NOT a DIY or quick online divorce option. It is simply that the official court system will now only take applications made online (with one or two exemptions allowing for paper forms).
As we've shown above, filing divorce papers online will not make divorce, faster, easier, or simpler for those with complex family arrangements to make. As before, you should always seek legal advice from a family lawyer before making any divorce application, so you understand the process, implications and associated costs.
What hasn't changed for divorcing couples
The new divorce process still requires you and your spouse to agree on:
- A financial settlement
- What happens to the family home
- Child maintenance payments
- Child arrangements for the resident and non-resident parent
- Ongoing co-parenting of children after the divorce is finalised
- The fixed court fees around filing for divorce (at time of writing)
The additional time involved in the divorce process means that victims of domestic abuse should seek legal advice as soon as possible to explore options for help, support, refuge and protection.
Division of assets and at fault divorce
There has long been an urban myth that if you admit to blame or fault in your divorce, this would affect how your financial assets would be divided. However, “conduct” is very rarely successively argued, and the courts make financial orders based on the principles of fairness and equality. The court is very rarely influenced by blame.
Over the next three months, we'll be looking at the real-world impact of these changes for you and your family. We'll be reporting on our experiences of the new digital system and working to ensure that the new changes offer a positive and beneficial experience for all our clients.
We'll also examine the potential emotional and psychological impact of not being able to "tell your story" in court as before. We will be actively looking at ways to help our divorce clients who need to express their feelings to have their voice heard, through therapy and other support alongside the divorce process.
If you want to talk through the forthcoming changes and how it may impact on your circumstances in more detail, contact us.
- Call us
- Email us