On the 25th of June 2020 a bill introducing “no fault” divorces in England and Wales received Royal Assent, and was previously passed by 231 votes to 16 in the House of Commons. What is going to change and why.
Nick Aspley, Family Law Partner at Hopkins LLP Solicitors, who have 5 offices in the East Midlands, discusses on what is going to change and why.
How old is the current Divorce Law?
The current divorce law was made in 1973 under the Matrimonial Causes Act. Yes, nearly 50 years ago!
Isn’t it about time for the Divorce Law to be updated?
It most certainly is. The law can develop and very slowly too!
What in Divorce Law is going to change?
Currently you can get a divorce if your marriage has “irretrievably broken down” supported by 5 facts, as they are known, of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two or five years separation and desertion. Therefore, to get a divorce sooner rather than wait for 2 years or more, you have to blame your spouse even if you don’t want to.
The new law will remove “the facts” leaving the only ground for a divorce being that your marriage has “irretrievably broken down.”
So, the element of blame is being removed.
Will this reduce arguments during a Divorce?
It will. As solicitors we always try and help clients to reach a solution at the end of their marriage by agreement. By forcing a wife or a husband to start a divorce by blaming the other does not promote and conciliatory and/or constructive approach in achieving that aim. It can create ill feeling and the wellbeing of not just the parties but can impact on the wellbeing of any children too.
So, what is the new 6th box we can tick on the Divorce Petition as the reason or grounds for the divorce?
Either the wife or the husband, or both unlike now, will be able to apply for a divorce on the sole basis of their marriage having “irretrievably broken down.”
I have read that this will mean everyone can get a “quickie” divorce. Is this right?
No. You will have to wait 6 months before the divorce is made final.
So, no more Decree Nisi and Absolute?
Correct. They will be replaced by “Conditional Order” and “Final Order.”
Will this mean a divorce will be cheaper?
I do not know if the government intend to reduce the current court fee of £550 to start a divorce. I would be surprised if it were reduced. Usually this is the largest element of any divorce costs in ending your marriage. But since couples may be less likely to argue then your solicitor or mediation fees are likely to be lower in the long run.
What about the arrangements for children or a financial settlement?
Remember that divorce usually contains three completely separate processes. The petition for the divorce which legally dissolves the marriage. The financial order, which legally distributes the couple’s assets. The children arrangement order, which legally decides where children will reside, visitation, etc…
Most couples are able to agree the arrangements for their children. By removing who is to blame for the divorce this should make any disagreements easier to resolve.
What usually takes the time and money is sorting out a financial settlement. I cannot see the divorce law change having any significant impact on this. However, by removing blame I would hope this will help couples negotiate and communicate more and in a better way to reach an amicable settlement.
Can I still start a divorce now if I want to?
Yes, of course. But the current law still stands so you will have to choose from one of the 5 reasons for the grounds of the divorce. I think it may be a few months before the new law will be implemented. Considering there is a very large backlog of divorce cases due the Covid-19 lockdown, if you want to start a divorce now there is nothing to stop you, and you can always stop the divorce at any point up until the Decree Absolute is issued.
The law on co-habitating couples who live together remains the same does it?
Yes. There are proposed changes in this area but that is for another day and another article!
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