Dissolving the Modern Marriage | The New No-Fault Divorce and how it affects YOU!

The word divorce is never an easy one to digest but when a relationship breaks down beyond repair it is often the only realistic last option.

Currently, divorce law is governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, requiring couples to provide facts or grounds for divorce. These facts or grounds are either adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, continuously living apart for two years providing the other party agrees or five years or more if one spouse refuses. It could be argued that the insistence of providing reasons for divorce adds fuel to the fire of acrimony, in what is almost always an emotionally charged situation that separating couples find themselves in.

However, from April 8th2022, the rules on divorce will undergo the biggest reform for almost 50 years. With 42% of marriages ending in divorce, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 has been heralded by some as well over-due and more representative of the modern marriage. So, what are the changes and how do they affect couples looking to divorce?

Couples wishing to divorce no longer need to attribute blame or have a long separation period. Parties can apply for a divorce either solely or jointly. The irretrievable breakdown of a marriage will be the only statement needed to obtain a divorce and will not be able to be contested. Courts will first grant a conditional court order replacing the decree nisi and a final order which replaces the decree absolute. This simplification of Latin terms into plain language is designed to make the process more understandable for divorcing couples. Civil partnerships will also mirror the new divorce law.

Courts will allow a breathing space of 20 weeks between the conditional order and the final order allowing couples to either consider reconciliation or be allowed time to sort out the practicalities should the split be inevitable. Although the Act does allow for 6 weeks between the conditional order and the final order assuming all parties agree to proceed. Rules on financial settlements and childcare arrangements remain unchanged and parties will still potentially need legal advice to navigate these.

Are the changes a positive move? Even the most amicable divorce can prove to be a highly stressful experience and the current law requires couples to provide fault-

based facts or stay married for years, which can increase tension between couples and decrease the ability to focus on the needs of children and co-parenting. The introduction of the no-fault based divorce allows couples to cite one statement citing irretrievable breakdown which seeks to help provide a divorce process that is as painless as is possible.

In parliamentary questions, Junior Minister for the Ministry of Justice Chris Philip MP explained that the new divorce process is designed to reduce conflict which greatly impacts children. The government are undertaking a ‘reducing parental conflict programme,’ which is meant to reflect the changes to divorce law by seeking to reduce harmful levels of parental conflict that are below the threshold of domestic abuse. Signposting to family mediation to resolve childcare arrangements and assets are also being strengthened.