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On 25 June 2020, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 was given Royal Assent, and this will bring a significant change to the way that divorce will operate in England and Wales.
The above Act is also known as the ‘No Fault Divorce’ law, and will formally come into force on 6 April 2022. The change in law is being viewed as incredibly positive, given that family lawyers have been lobbying the government for many years to help introduce a less confrontational way for couples to navigate divorce.
You will see below that the current law unfortunately can create more tension between a couple who are divorcing, and that is why the new law will hopefully make the divorce process easier for separated couples.
The law that is currently still in force is the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, as Amended. If you are applying for a divorce, you are known as the “Petitioner” (the party who instigates divorce proceedings). You must show that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of your marriage. This is the only ground for divorce, and must be proven by use of one of 5 ‘facts’:
You must therefore apply to the Court using one of those 5 facts to show there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Once the papers have been accepted and issued by the Court, the “Respondent” (the other party) will receive an Acknowledgment of Service to complete and return.
Once the Acknowledgment of Service is returned to the Court, you may immediately apply for the next stage in the divorce, known as the Decree Nisi. This is otherwise referred to as the conditional order of divorce.
Once Decree Nisi is pronounced, there is a statutory waiting period of 6 weeks and a day before you can apply for the Decree Absolute, which is the final order that dissolves the marriage.
The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will remove the requirement to rely on a ‘fact’ to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The Court will be able to accept a statement from the Applicant, or a joint statement from both parties (“Applicants”) to the divorce as “conclusive evidence” that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This will put an end to spouses having to “point the finger” at the other when the breakdown of the marriage is difficult enough for couples to have to go through.
The new law also puts in place a new statutory timeframe of 20 weeks between issuing proceedings until an application for a conditional order of divorce. The court will not be permitted to make a conditional order before that time.
The final order to dissolve the marriage can then be applied for 6 weeks after the conditional order is made.
You should be aware that the changes to divorce law are regarding the divorce procedure only. The new law does not change the necessity to settle the matrimonial finances within a divorce.
If you have any questions about divorce and are unsure of where to begin, our specialist family team can help advise you on your next steps, and how we can help you through the process. Should you wish to discuss further, please telephone 0800 987 8156 and a solicitor from the family team would be happy to assist you.
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