The government's long-awaited Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 which primarily introduces no fault divorce in England & Wales is finally in force from 6 April 2022.

It represents the biggest change in divorce law for 50 years. It comes at the end of a long campaign by family lawyers to seek to end the "blame game" and reduce the impact on separating couples that allegations of fault and blame can have on them and any children of the family.

The previous divorce system required one spouse to initiate the process of filing for divorce and very often that meant making an accusation about the other spouse's behaviour, or to issue a petition based on the adultery of one party, thus again laying blame at the door of one spouse.

The new law will mean that instead of having to attribute blame, a couple can mutually cite "irretrievable breakdown" as the sole ground of wanting a divorce. A further major change is that the application can be made by one party or a joint application for a divorce can be submitted. No evidence of any other conduct is now required.

The new law also removes the old-fashioned terminology in the divorce process.

The application is now made online which will mean that postal delays can be avoided. The law also removes (except in very specific and limited circumstances) the ability for the opposing spouse to defend the divorce.

The new application comes with some delay built in. Once the application is made the person issuing the application (the applicant) will have to wait for 20 weeks to have elapsed from when the respondent is served with the divorce application before they can then apply for a conditional order (formerly Decree Nisi) which is the first stage of the divorce process. This is to be regarded as a period of reflection to allow both parties to reflect on the decision to divorce and to consider financial and children issues. The applicant can then apply for the final order of divorce 6 weeks after the conditional order was made. If financial matters have not been sorted out it is likely that this final order will be delayed until those have been resolved.

Why has the law changed and why does it matter?

A change to the law has been long awaited by most family lawyers who consider the current laws (enshrined in 1973) to be outdated and that they increase the acrimony between parties separating and make an already difficult decision much harder. Society has greatly changed since 1973 and it is unfair that a couple are forced to remain living together, even if they have tried to make the marriage work but that this has not been successful.

How do you apply?

Separating couples can apply online either jointly or a sole application can be made. Solicitors can also be instructed to issue an application (also online) but it will not be possible for one Solicitor to act for both parties. The fee for the divorce process payable to the Court has not changed and this remains at £593. If you instruct a Solicitor to complete the paperwork for you then there will be costs for that but we, at DPM Legal, will fix those costs for you at £600 plus VAT. Those fixed costs only relate to the divorce process.

Time scales

The application from start to finish will take slightly longer than the current divorce process as there is an inbuilt 20-week reflection period. It is not possible to circumvent that. It is anticipated that the divorce should therefore take approximately 6 months from start to end once this has been up and running and is progressing smoothly.

What about your financial or children issues?
The law has not changed in relation to financial or children issues and you will still need to sort those out with the assistance of Solicitors or other methods of resolution. It would be hoped, if you can be amicable, that you can use the 20-week reflection period to negotiate a financial settlement that would be acceptable to you both, and to agree children issues, if those apply. However, in the event that you cannot resolve matters amicably, there are other options open to you to bring those matters to a conclusion. You should be aware however, that if you cannot resolve matters amicably on financial issues, then the divorce process will take longer as that should not be concluded with a final order until there is an agreement on financial issues. Any final agreement on financial matters should be incorporated into an Order which can be enforced. 

It is therefore still vital that you seek advice about your rights in relation to financial issues including the family home, assets and pensions.    

At DPM Legal we are members of Resolution and fully support the change in the law.We are committed to resolving divorce proceedings in a constructive and non-confrontational way as much as possible. If you need advice on the new law and wish to have support in making an application, or have any other family law related query, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your options. We offer an initial no obligation appointment for 30-45 mins and we can provide you with details of our hourly rates or fixed fee services.  

Although every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided in this article is accurate and correct, the information provided does not constitute any form of advice.

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