04 March 2022

‘Blame game’ to end in April 2022

Julie Bailey Partner & Head of Military

In June 2020, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill received Royal Assent which came into effect on 6 April 2022.

How will this affect married couples seeking divorce?

This long-awaited legislation brings to an end the requirement for a person seeking a divorce to cite ‘blame’, by demonstrating to the court that one of five statutory facts; adultery, behaviour, desertion, or a relevant period of separation of two or five years, exists. A practice which causes a substantial and unnecessary amount of stress and animosity in an already difficult situation.

That has been the case since the previous legislation came into existence almost 50 years ago. Times have changed since then and the new legislation does not require any evidence of the breakdown of the marriage but merely requires the applicant or, if it is a joint application, the couple to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown.

Can I contest an application for divorce?

There is no ability to contest the application for divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership except for very limited reasons, such as where it is alleged the court does not have jurisdiction or where there is a dispute as to whether there is a valid marriage or civil partnership to dissolve. There is also no defence if the other party simply does not accept or agree that there should be a divorce.

The government’s key policy aim behind the new legislation is to reduce the conflict within the legal process of divorce, dissolution or separation which can be particularly damaging for any children of the relationship.

What else do I need to know about the new ‘no fault’ divorce legislation?

The new procedure is made up of two parts as is presently the case. The first is a minimum 20 week “cooling off” period between the start of the proceedings and confirmation by the court that a conditional divorce or dissolution order should be made (currently called a Decree Nisi). There is then a further 6-week period before that conditional order can be made absolute and the divorce or separation finalised (presently called Decree Absolute).

The 20-week period is intended to provide an opportunity for “reflection” and to allow a couple to deal with any financial aspects of their separation. The application for divorce can be withdrawn at any time during that 20-week period. If the application has been made jointly by the couple, the withdrawal of one of them will not prevent the other from pressing on with the finalisation of the application.

Resolving financial and child arrangements

The divorce itself is of course only one aspect of matters which usually need to be addressed between a couple in the event of their separation. Often there will also be issues regarding the care of any children and also their financial arrangements. In relation to the latter, some protection has been built into the new legislation which will allow the recipient of an application for divorce to ask the court to consider their financial position after the divorce before making the final divorce order.

The reason for this is that an individual’s circumstances can be severely prejudiced in the event of a divorce being made final before the financial arrangements between them and their spouse or civil partner are resolved and a financial order is made by the court. One instance is where their former spouse dies before they have not been compensated for the provision that would otherwise have been made for them in the event of their spouse’s death e.g. by way of a spouse’s pension.

Whilst the new legislation is largely heralded as being long overdue and being necessary to bring the law in line with current lifestyles and relationships, as previously, there can be serious implications for both parties when they divorce. A specialist family lawyer will be able to guide you through the new procedure and ensure that you avoid any pitfalls, adverse consequences or unfairness that can occur if that specialist legal advice is not obtained.

We're here to help

If your life is taking a new direction, contact family law specialist Julie Bailey on 01522 515948 or email Julie.bailey@wilkinchapman.co.uk.

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