Divorce: A Year On
April 2022 saw the introduction of no-fault divorce with a view to ending the ‘blame game’ culture and reducing conflict between separating couples.
Emily Minton, solicitor at Sternberg Reed LLP, looks at the changes brought about by the new regime.
The implementation of The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 on 06 April 2022 brought with it the new no-fault system. The new rules removed the need for couples to apportion blame for the breakdown of their relationship.
Prior to April 2022 separating couples had to prove one of five facts to establish that their relationship had irretrievably broken down: (1) adultery, (2) unreasonable behaviour, (3) desertion for a period of at least two years, (4) separation for a period of at least two years with the other party consenting to the divorce or dissolution, or (5) separation for a period of five years.
Quite often this led to couples pointing the finger at one another to enable the divorce or dissolution to be granted, even if the separation had been a mutual decision, as the only way to seek a divorce or dissolution immediately and avoid the need to wait for a period of at least two years was by proving either adultery or unreasonable behaviour as the reason for the breakdown of the relationship. This in turn heightened the conflict between the couples at an already difficult time, reducing the focus on the matters which needed to be resolved.
Since April 2022 separating couples have been able to divorce without apportioning blame as there is no longer a focus on how the relationship broke down. The need to establish one of the five facts has been removed and couples now only need to confirm that their relationship has broken down irretrievably. Although to ensure the parties do not rush into seeking a divorce or dissolution, and to allow some time to reflect, the no-fault system stipulates that the parties must wait a minimum of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to apply for the conditional order of divorce (that being the first of two orders of divorce). The change has also removed the possibility of contesting a divorce or dissolution. In addition, couples are now able to submit joint divorce applications, supporting the change from an unnecessary ‘blame game’ culture and creating a narrative focusing on the parties working together to bring about an amicable resolution to their separation.
Sternberg Reed’s Family Team have been reflecting on the changes seen throughout the last year and the impact this has had on separating couples:
What differences have our family law team noticed over the last 12 months?
Our Rebecca Viola, Aimee Jones, and Emily Minton, consider the changes.
Has there been a change in the time taken for couples to finalise their divorce?
“Yes for sure. There is less arguing, for example about particulars of unreasonable behaviour.” – Rebecca Viola, Partner
“The process itself seems to take a little longer due to the 20 week holding period but on the other hand the respondent is far more likely to file a response on time since the application itself is not inflammatory.” – Aimee Jones, Chartered Legal Executive
Has there been a change in the hostility or conflict between the parties?
“It has made a massive difference in taking the heat out of divorce, allowing couples to focus on the more important aspects of separation such as agreeing the child arrangements and finances.” – Rebecca Viola, Partner
“Yes, I do think it has made a difference. I have a lot more clients attending mediation and resolving the finances by way of consent.” – Aimee Jones, Chartered Legal Executive
“I’ve noticed a big change in the conflict between the parties. The hostility between couples does appear to have reduced. Where couples would previously argue over the accusations raised within the divorce petition, and potentially contest the divorce as a result, this can now be avoided.” – Emily Minton, Solicitor
Removing the focus on the reason attributable to the breakdown of the relationship lessens any hostility between the couple and allows them to focus on the important matters at hand. It saves the need to revisit sensitive issues that arose during the relationship. Couples can focus their energy on resolving issues surrounding the care of their children and the division of their finances following the separation.
The change sought to be more client-friendly, making the process simpler and changing the outdated terminology with the two orders of divorce changing from ‘Decree Nisi’ to ‘Conditional Order’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ to ‘Final Order’.
The changes also sought to support victims of domestic violence. Removing the ability to contest a divorce or dissolution prevents abusers from spitefully contesting the proceedings in order to further control their partner and trap them in the relationship, and allows domestic abuse victims to become free from their abuser.
If you are going through a separation at the moment, Sternberg Reed’s Family Team are here to support you. Contact us on 0208 591 3366 or visit our website using the link below where our team will be happy to help advise you on matters surrounding separation and divorce.
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