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What amicable partners need to know about the upcoming changes to divorce law

View profile for Lucy Law
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Reforms to divorce law are imminent and it has just been announced will come into force on 6 April 2022. As lockdowns lift it is also anticipated that we may see a spike in divorces – where the stagnation of Covid-19 delayed unhappy couples from filing. Here we discuss how the forthcoming changes will affect married couples seeking separation in 2022.

What is being reformed?

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will substitute sections of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The biggest change will be the introduction of the new grounds for divorce; replacing the old-fashioned grounds of Desertion, Separation, Adultery and Unreasonable Behaviour.

How will the new Act make the divorce process easier for couples who wish to maintain an amicable relationship?

The point of this new legislation was to remove some of the existing contentious points of the divorce process by asking the question: ‘Does the law promote minimum bitterness, distress and humiliation?’  With the changes being made, the hope is that harmonious ex partners can move forward with divorce proceedings without hitting hurdles that normally cause conflict.

Firstly, the ability for a couple to bring a joint petition (something not previously allowed) will remove one of the first major stumbling blocks in the divorce process – who petitions for divorce, something that could cause animosity between amicable couples. This is because to file for divorce without waiting until the parties have been separated for at least two years the Petitioner must file citing one of the old grounds mentioned above. Where no Desertion, or Adultery has taken place, the Petitioner would be forced to file a petition relying on the fact of Unreasonable Behaviour, but what if there has been none (or at least very little)?

The allowance of a petition for a ‘no-fault divorce’ will allow couples to file when they know things simply aren’t working, without the requirement for them to come up with arguments to support the facts on which they intend to rely. An example would be looking for unreasonable behaviours where there may be none. A couple may have been happily married previously and faithful to each other, but now live separate lives or just aren’t happy anymore. The Family Courts can and do pick up on instances where this is the case, for example in Owens v Owens (2018) in which the court found that the 27 examples Mrs Owens provided to support her petition relying on her husband's unreasonable behaviour were “flimsy and exaggerated” isolated incidents.

Finally, while we rather like the pomp and circumstance of a little Latin, some of the terminology surrounding legal documents may change. The 2020 Act suggests that certain document names may be replaced with more accessible terminology; for example, the ‘Decree Nisi’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ could instead be referred to as the ‘Conditional Divorce Order’ and the ‘Final Divorce Order’. This should help Petitioners and Respondents alike clarify the purpose and finality of the documents served.

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If you would like information about the above do not hesitate to contact a member of our Family law Team who would be happy to help.

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