The long anticipated “No-Fault Divorce” amendments, which family lawyers have been eagerly awaiting for the last year, has been struck a new blow after the government admitted it will be unable to meet its initial target for bringing the changes into effect by autumn 2021.
Courts Minister, Chris Philp MP, has confirmed that the deadline has now been put back for the amendments to be implemented from Autumn 2021 to April 2022. 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.”
Describing the delay as “unfortunate”, Philp went on to stress the importance of getting the procedural rules correct, and that officials are in the process of identifying, designing and building the necessary amendments to the current court rules, whilst amending the new online digital divorce service.
The amendments will see a revision of the legal processes set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 for married couples to obtain a divorce or judicial separation, and the Civil Partnership Act 2004 for civil partners to dissolve their civil partnership or obtain a legal separation; the major amendment being the removal of the requirement for a party seeking a divorce, dissolution or separation to provide evidence of conduct or separation “facts”.
Many lawyers across England and Wales are very much in favour of the new proposed legislation being introduced. It is hoped that by enabling separating couples to file a ‘statement of irretrievable breakdown’ rather than listing individual faults with their partner to prove the same, it will help the parties to remain amicable.
Following on from this, it is hoped that the preserved relations between the parties will have a knock-on effect on financial division and children disputes. If the process has not started with one party blaming the other for the relationship breakdown, these elements of the separation may not be as contentious.
At Maguire Family Law we will be keeping a close eye on developments as they arise. We are regularly asked by clients about when the changes are due to take place, as more often than not people want to avoid playing the “blame game” when it comes to starting their divorce. We couldn’t agree more, and we just hope that there are no further stumbling blocks for the government. These reforms are needed sooner rather than later, and they will see the biggest reform of divorce law in 50 years.