The Divorce Reform Act 1969 enabled people to end marriages that had “irretrievably broken down” without having to prove fault. Couples could end marriages after two years of separation, if both parties desired divorce, or five years if only one party desired divorce.
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 set out the basis of divorce and also detailed how the courts should deal with financial issues that are often entwined with divorce.
The Family Law Act 1996 looked to move towards a ‘no fault’ divorce (which included couples attending information sessions and mediation) but this was not proceeded with and so the ‘old’ law has remained in place until now
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which has just had its second reading before the House of Commons reforms the legal requirements and process for divorce. It removes conflict flashpoints from that process and introduces a new minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and when confirmation may be given by a party of their wish for the court to proceed to grant the conditional order of divorce (decree nisi). The existing six-week period between conditional order and final order of divorce (decree absolute) will be retained. These two timescales will mean that a divorce in most cases will not be finalised in less than six months.
What are the proposed changes?
The Bill revises the existing legal processes for divorce, dissolution, and separation set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Civil Partnerships Act 2004. Key measures will:
• Retain the sole ground of irretrievable breakdown but replace the requirement to provide supporting evidence of a conduct or separation fact with a new requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown. No further evidence will be required.
• Remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce. The court will take the statement of irretrievable breakdown to be conclusive evidence that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.
• Introduce a new minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and confirmation to the court that the conditional order should be made, and retain the current minimum timeframe of six weeks between conditional order and final order.
• Enable the Lord Chancellor to adjust the time periods between the start of proceedings and confirmation that a conditional order should be made, and between the conditional order and final order of divorce, so long as the total does not exceed 26 weeks (six months).
• Introduce a new option of a joint application for cases where the decision to divorce is a mutual one. The current ability of one spouse only to initiate the legal process of divorce will be retained.
• Update terminology used, for example replacing terms such as “decree nisi”, “decree absolute” and “petitioner” with “conditional order”, “final order” and “applicant”.
When are the new UK divorce laws coming into force?
It is proposed that the Act will come into force by commencement order after Royal Assent anticipated to be in June or July 2020.
If you would like to understand more about how the current – or upcoming – divorce laws may impact you, or if you require practical, helpful advice and support with regards to divorce, and related issues John Hodge Solicitors has a Family Law team with experience in all aspects of family law, including disputes over financial matters (whether you are married or in a cohabiting relationship), children issues and divorce. Our solicitors are members of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel and Resolution and you can therefore be confident in the advice that you receive. The Family team offer a free consultation within which they provide expert advice with no obligation.