At long last, the wait is finally over! Today marks the beginning of a new and positive chapter for both family solicitors and couples looking to divorce, with the introduction of the “No Fault Divorce” regime coming into effect.
It has been described as the biggest reform of divorce laws for 50 years, and will see couples who have not been separated for at least two years have the option of applying for a divorce on the basis of “no fault”, rather than the old regime of one blaming the other party for the breakdown of the marriage due to their unreasonable behaviour, or showing that their spouse has deserted them or committed adultery.
Another change to the new laws is that the options available to contest a divorce will be incredibly limited, such as in cases where one party disputes that the court has the jurisdiction to grant a divorce.
The hope is that the new law will reduce any initial acrimony between parties, allowing them to focus on the practicalities of the divorce itself, such as resolving matters relating to finances or children, rather than become embroiled on a battle as to whose fault it is that the marriage has come to an end. In fact, the new laws give divorcing parties the option of submitting a divorce application jointly, which in such cases will see both parties applying for the divorce together, rather than one party being on the receiving end of the application.
It is generally accepted that the change to the law was inspired and influenced by the 2017 case of Owens v Owens. In that case, a wife had sought to end her 40 year marriage, insisting that her relationship with her husband had broken down, but her husband refused to consent to the divorce. The case went as far as the Supreme Court, and despite the wife having had an affair and the couple living in separate houses, the husband successfully defended the divorce petition. The strange decision led to an immediate outcry by both members of the public and the legal profession, calling for an end to the old and out of date divorce legislation.
Following the case, in September 2018 the Government launched a 12 week public consultation on their proposal to end the “blame game” within divorce. That saw almost unanimous support for a change to the law, from which the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was introduced to Parliament in 2019, and subsequently passed in 2020.
The new laws will now take effect from 10am on Wednesday 6 April 2022.
Some of the key takeaway points which couples should be aware of are as follows:
- Couples will now be able to apply for a divorce solely on the basis that the marriage has broken down;
- Joint applications for divorce can now be made;
- Some terminology has been updated to make the new process more user friendly by using “plain English”;
- There will be a 20 week period between the date of the divorce application and date that a conditional order (previously known as Decree Nisi) can be applied for; and
- The possibility of one party contesting a divorce is now extremely limited.
We welcome the changes to divorce laws at Maguire Family Law, and indeed over the last several months have seen a growing number of clients opting to place their pending divorces on hold with a view to filing under the new laws. We have been seeing less of an appetite from clients wanting to blame their spouse for the breakdown of their marriage, with many clients simply wanting to address matters in an amicable and cooperative fashion.
We do expect there to be some teething issues over the coming weeks. In the Family Court Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice on 31 March 2021, it was reported that between October to December 2021 there were around 26% less divorce petitions issued by the court than in the same period of 2020. In light of this, there is likely to be an incredibly large number of new divorce applications over the coming weeks, and that could see delays in the new system as far as processing is concerned. Despite this, we do expect the process as a whole to be more straightforward and streamlined due to the simplification of this area of law.
We all know that divorce is not easy, but with the changes to the law it will become just that little more bearable.
For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: email@example.com or telephone: