Divorce law changes in April 2022 - the end of the 'blame game'.

The laws associated with divorce will be changing from April 2022 onwards. The current divorce laws embodied within the Matrimonial Causes Act, which went into force in 1973, was due for an update after 40 years. Despite the introduction of the groundbreaking Children’s Act in 1989 not much has changed since the 1970s and earlier attempts to introduce changes failed in the 1990’s.

April 6th of April 2022 will see the biggest change to divorce law in England and Wales since the Matrimonial Causes Act. This will finally see the introduction of a system of no-fault divorce, ending what many commonly refer to as ‘the blame game’ in divorce cases.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was voted through with the overwhelming support of both houses in 2020 and saw the bill obtain Royal Assent in June of that year. It has been the hottest topic in the legal world for over a decade and now it will finally be implemented.

The old system of ‘defended divorces’ will disappear. That system required divorcing couples to prove ‘irretrievable breakdown of the relationship’ was the result of one of the following:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Two years separation with consent
  • Or, five years separation without consent

new life after divorceAs of April 6th 2022, all that is required to start divorce proceedings is for one or other of the parties to file a statement with a court to the effect that the marriage has irrevocably broken down. This statement will be accepted by the court as absolute proof that a divorce is genuinely sought.

This means that with the new Act, married and civil partners can be separated without either party having to petition with an accusation blaming the other party. This also effectively puts an end to a process whereby the other party could drag their feet endlessly, causing further distress and cost.

There is hope that the new process will improve the prospects of achieving an amicable divorce and reduce the hostility between separating parties seen in some cases., especially where there are children involved.

Final divorce may take a little longer though

Although there’s no requirement to wait for 2 or 5 years anymore, under the new system it can take a minimum of 6 months to achieve the final decree absolute. The new system is however, much simpler but requires a cooling off period of 20 weeks after the initial application, during which time the parties reflect on what is to happen. After 20 weeks, a ‘conditional order’ will be issued (equivalent to the decree nisi). A further 6 weeks after that, the court will issue the ‘final order’ (equivalent to the decree absolute).

Summary of the three key aspects of the changes in divorce law

  1. Couples can make a joint applications for divorce, although one party still can. This makes it easier for couples to emphasise their intent to split amicably.
  2. No blame is assigned to either party for the divorce, replacing the current system of five possible ways  to prove that a marriage relationship has broken down.
  3. There’s now a 20 week cooling off period between the application and conditional order, with another 6 weeks after that before the final order is issued. This means a minimum of 6 months for the process to complete.

Key wording changes

  • The ‘petitioner’ becomes ‘the applicant’
  • The ‘decree nisi’ becomes the ‘conditional order’
  • The ‘decree absolute’ becomes the ‘final order’

Why did the old system need replacing?

Unless both parties agreed to the underlying cause of the relationship breakdown, it could take either 2 or 5 years for the process to work through without accepting one of the other three reasons. This means that if the couples wanted a quick divorce, one or other has to accept ‘blame’.

Naturally, this could cause a lot of consternation and emotion, as to who should take the blame. Mistakenly, separating couples often believe that admitting guilt, whether made up or not, as part of the legal requirement for separation, that there’s potential for the blamed party to suffer financially as a result.

Having to wait two years will likely have a serious impact on the lives of people involved. Essentially, people cannot move on and in some cases, this found couples having to run expensive and separate financial affairs.

The system was also open to abuse should one party refuse to accept the relationship has ended.  This is because the grounds for proving ‘unreasonable behaviour’ meant one party could effectively drag out the process unreasonably, making it difficult financially and emotionally for the other party.

Reach out to Foys divorce solicitors

Talk to Foys and let our divorce experts guide you through a more amicable divorce settlement. We’ve been helping separating couples in the local communities around our regional offices work through the tricky process of separation and divorce for decades. Simply reach out to our sympathetic divorce team at one the locations nearest you or call our head office on  01302 327 136, and let them direct you to the appropriate divorce specialist to speak to.