No-fault divorces are set to be available to parting couples in England and Wales from late 2021 under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (the Act).
The Act contains a range of provisions that are intended to reduce conflict in the divorce process, amid concerns from family lawyers and others that the existing adversarial process was contributing to conflict between divorcing couples.
Under the current rules, a person petitioning for divorce must provide one of five reasons to demonstrate that their marriage has broken down irretrievably:
- Unreasonable behaviour;
- Desertion for at least two years;
- Two years’ separation, with consent; or
- Five years’ separation.
The new rules will require only a statement confirming that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and it will become possible for couples to make this statement jointly.
Couples will have to wait a minimum of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to agree on future arrangements.
Other changes include a subtle shift in the language used in the process, with ‘petitioners’ and ‘respondents’ becoming ‘applicants’ and ‘parties’, again in the hope that this will make the process less confrontational.
Although the new Act has been passed by Parliament, most provisions will not come into effect until late next year, which the Ministry of Justice says is to allow time to implement changes to court, online and paper processes.
Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, said: “The institution of marriage will always be upheld, but when divorce cannot be avoided the law should not exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing.
“These new laws will stop separating couples having to make needless allegations against one another, and instead help them focus on resolving their issues amicably.
“By sparing them the need to play the ‘blame game’, we are removing the antagonism that this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”
The Coronavirus crisis is likely to have placed a strain on many relationships. If you would like advice on divorce or separation before the introduction of no-fault divorce next year, please speak to our team.