No fault divorce delayed until April 2022

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It’s official – the introduction of no fault divorce to England and Wales has been delayed until April 2022, a government minister has confirmed.

Originally, the government had said that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which includes provision for no fault divorce, would come into force in autumn 2021. With no announcement of a specific date having been made, many in the legal profession suspected a delay and this has now been confirmed by courts minister Chris Philp MP.

In a written response to a parliamentary question from Jane Stevenson, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton North East, Philp said: “The Ministry of Justice is committed to ensuring that the amended digital service allows for a smooth transition from the existing service which has reformed the way divorce is administered in the courts and improved the service received by divorcing couples at a traumatic point in their lives.

“Following detailed design work, it is now clear that these amendments, along with the full and rigorous testing of the new system ahead of implementation, will not conclude before the end of the year.”

Philp suggested the delay would provide time for better signposting to be put in place for separating couples to direct them towards divorce mediation for the division of assets and arrangements for children.

What does this delay mean for anyone who wanted a no fault divorce?

Obviously, this is likely to be disappointing news for anyone who was waiting for the new rules to come into effect in the hope of having a no fault divorce. Many people are likely to be asking themselves whether it is worth waiting for a no fault divorce.

For the vast majority of people, the answer is going to be no. This is because it is perfectly possible to have an amicable divorce under the current rules, if you have the right legal support from the outset.

While the idea that one spouse needs to take the blame for the failure of the marriage is certainly outdated, it is a technicality that can usually be worked around with the right approach.

This means that, for most people, there really is no need to wait and you can move ahead with your divorce as soon as you feel ready to do so.

How can you have an amicable divorce under the current rules?

Under current divorce laws, you have to give one of five specific reasons for why your marriage has broken down. These are:

  1. Adultery – Where your spouse has had sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex.
  2. Behaviour – Where your spouse has behaved in such a way that you can no longer reasonably be expected to live with them. This covers a wide range of issues. If the divorce can proceed by agreement, then the particulars can be kept very mild, brief and bland, such as lack of communication and lack of interest in spending time together as husband and wife.
  3. Desertion – Where your spouse has left you for at least two years total out of the last two and half years without your consent, without a good reason and with the intention to end your relationship.
  4. Separation for at least 2 years – Where your spouse agrees to the divorce.
  5. Separation for at least 5 years – Whether your spouse agrees to the divorce or not.

Exactly which reason you rely on and the details you give to support that reason can be a major potential point of conflict in divorce. However, if you take care with the way you prepare the petition, disagreements can usually be avoided.

While using adultery as the reason for the divorce is likely to be contentious and relying on desertion or separation will require you to wait several years, citing unreasonable behaviour can often allow you to avoid requiring your spouse to agree to anything with which they would be uncomfortable.

A skilled divorce lawyer will be able to work with you to ensure the examples of behaviour that you cite in the divorce petition are sufficient to satisfy a court without making your spouse feel that their character is being attacked.

It is common for both spouses to be involved in drafting the petition, agreeing with each other what to say. This can avoid any surprises to which the responding spouse might react negatively.

What if you think your spouse might contest the divorce?

If you believe that your spouse might attempt to defend the divorce, this can be a distressing thought. However, this rarely happens in practice and, at most, a spouse who wished to oppose the divorce could only delay it until April 2022 when the new rules come into force and the option for the respondent to oppose the divorce will be removed.

Even if your spouse did choose to defend the divorce, it is unlikely it would go to court as most such objections can be resolved by negotiation between the parties. The possibility of a spouse defending a divorce can also usually be avoided by good communication before the divorce petition is submitted.

Whatever your circumstances, we recommended speaking to an experienced divorce lawyer before initiating divorce proceedings to ensure you take the right approach for you.

What changes will be introduced when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into effect?

The key changes to the divorce process being introduced by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 are:

  • The requirement to provide a reason for the divorce will be removed
  • The respondent will no longer have the option of opposing the divorce
  • Couples will be able to make a joint application to end their marriage

Under the new rules, one or both spouses will simply need to submit a divorce petition containing a ‘statement of irretrievable breakdown’. The court will then be able to grant a divorce on this basis.

There will also be some changes to the terminology used in the divorce process, with the interim ‘decree nisi’ being renamed a ‘conditional order’ and the ‘decree absolute’ that legally ends the marriage being renamed a ‘final order’.

These changes will also apply to civil partnership dissolution proceedings, meaning the process for ending a marriage or civil partnership will essentially be the same.

Want to know more about the changes being brought in by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020? Take a look at our blog on no fault divorce and the end of the blame game.

Speak to our family lawyers about getting divorced without unnecessary conflict

At Longmores, we understand that most people are keen to avoid conflict in their divorce. Our Family Law team offer sensible, realistic advice aimed at minimising the potential for tension and disputes, while making sure our clients get the outcome they need, for them and their loved ones.

Our team includes two members of Resolution, the leading network for family lawyers with a focus on removing conflict from family law proceedings. This reflects our commitment to make divorce as easy as possible for our clients.

Whatever your circumstances, we will work closely with you, listening carefully to what you need and any concerns you have. We can then guide you through every stage of divorce, from dealing with the divorce petition, through to making a financial settlement and arrangements for children.

In the vast majority of cases, we help our clients to get the right divorce for them without the need for contentious court proceedings. We also have a very good track record of helping clients to maintain positive relationships with their former partners, which can be particularly beneficial where there are children to consider.

To discuss how our family lawyers can help you get divorced while keeping conflict to a minimum, please get in touch with Tracey Dargan, Partner and Head of Divorce and Family Law.

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Please note the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.