The end of the “blame game” for divorce proceedings?

On 6 April 2022, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which reforms the divorce process to remove the concept of fault, came into force. The implementation of this Act was long-awaited and will now introduce no-fault divorces to England and Wales.

This piece of legislation:

  1. Replaces the five grounds for divorce and allows couples to divorce without assigning fault;
  2. Removes the possibility of the other party contesting the divorce;
  3. Introduces an option for a joint application; and
  4. Makes sure that the language used is in plain English, for example by changing “decree nisi” to conditional order, “decree absolute” to final order and “petitioner” to applicant.

These developments will apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships too.

The benefit of this piece of legislation is that it will end the need for couples who decide to separate to apportion blame for the breakdown of their relationship and move towards what is now known as a “no-fault” divorce.

Previously, divorce law required one party to show unreasonable behaviour, adultery, or desertion. If none of these reasons could be proved, the separating couple would face years of living apart before they could be granted a divorce. At the time, it did not matter whether the couple had made the mutual decision to separate.

The update to the law now means that one spouse, or the couple jointly, can apply for a divorce by simply stating that their marriage has broken down irretrievably.

This development will be particularly beneficial to victims of domestic abuse, who have previously faced being trapped in their abusive relationship by their partners who have been able to contest the divorce.

The divorce applications can be made online, which avoids the postal delays.

The Act also introduces a new minimum timeframe of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and when individuals may apply for a conditional order of divorce. This allows a period of reflection, or alternatively a period of getting other affairs in order (children, finances, and property), before the decision is finalised.

After six weeks has elapsed from the date of the conditional order, an application can be made for a divorce or dissolution final order, unless the parties are in the process of resolving financial matters.

Rachel Norgate