After over 30 years of campaigning (by Resolution and others) the divorce laws in England and Wales have changed with effect from 6 April 2022.
Previously if someone wished to get divorced they would need to either wait for 2 years (by consent) or 5 years or issue a petition based on fault (namely unreasonable behaviour or adultery). This can make an already difficult situation much worse and it can be difficult for both sides to cite these detailed grounds. It can also lead to unnecessary acrimony between the parties.
Where the parties have grown apart or simply fallen out of love, they would have had no option but to wait for 2 years to divorce. That also means that they cannot resolve the finances with absolute certainty until those divorce proceedings are issued and it leaves them with uncertainty until that divorce is finalised.
The difficulties with the ‘old’ divorce law were highlighted particularly in the 2018 case of Owens v Owens UKSC 41. In this particular case Mrs Owens sought to divorce her husband based on his alleged ‘unreasonable behaviour’ but her petition was dismissed on the basis that the court found the behaviour to be ‘of a kind to be expected in a marriage’ and found nothing within it that Mrs Owens could not reasonably be expected to live with. This meant that despite issuing her original petition in 2015, Mrs Owens had to wait until 5 years passed before she could divorce her husband without his consent.
The case of Owens caused outcry amongst the legal profession and the wider public and gave the existing campaigns more momentum.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act is a very welcome reform and it is now fully in operation via an online portal.
For the first time under the new rules the parties can apply jointly if they wish, although sole applications still seem to be the norm. A joint application has not been permitted before and may allow the parties to remain on an amicable footing from the outset of the proceedings.
There is no longer any statement of grounds, but simply a statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Once the proceedings are issued, there is a 20 week ‘cooling off period’ before the conditional order is made (formerly, or currently, the ‘Decree Nisi’). This allows the parties a period of time to reflect, consider whether there is any prospect of reconciliation and if there is not, then to contemplate the way forward separately.
After the Conditional Order has been made there will then still be a 6 week delay before the final order can be applied for, as is the case now between Decree Nisi being granted and Decree Absolute.
The portal system has been very efficient at processing divorces issued in this new process to date and we hope that this has streamlined the whole divorce process. If you have any further questions or would like further advice please do not hesitate to contact us.