No fault divorce legislation delayed: does it matter?
The introduction of a no fault divorce law has been delayed. Sarah Evans, Partner in Coodes Solicitors’ Family team offers some reassurance for separating couples.
The Government has announced delays to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (no-fault divorce). Originally planned for the autumn, the legislation, which will provide the opportunity for a no fault divorce, will now not come into force until 6 April 2022.
What is a no fault divorce?
In June 2020, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 received Royal assent. This was the culmination of a 30-year campaign spearheaded by Resolution, calling for couples to be given the opportunity to divorce in a less contentious, more amicable way. We welcomed this news because many of our clients want to divorce without blaming each other.
A no fault divorce will mean that couples no longer need to assign blame in order to be granted a divorce or to end a civil partnership. As the law currently stands, anyone seeking to divorce or dissolve a civil partnership has to either prove they have been separated for at least two years or point to one of five divorce grounds.
That means that one spouse has blame the other for the failure of the marriage. This could include an accusation of adultery or unreasonable behaviour. The most commonly cited ground for divorce, unreasonable behaviour, can cover almost anything, from financial disagreements to lack of physical affection or laziness around household chores.
A no fault divorce would mean that a couple could simply agree to go their separate ways without having to point to a particular act or behaviour. They simply have to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably without citing any particular reasons.
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A ban on contested divorces
The Act includes other changes to the divorce process. Perhaps the most significant is that it bans contested divorces. This is when one spouse refuses the other’s divorce petition. Contested divorces are rare, but the issue hit the news headlines back in 2017 when Tini Owens’ husband refused to divorce.
This high profile and very unusual case added to growing support for divorce laws to be updated. It helped the campaign for the introduction of a no fault divorce to gather momentum.
How will the delay impact on divorcing couples?
In the last few days, some of our clients have been expressing concerns about the delay to the new laws. Understandably, people are worried that they will either have to delay proceedings until 2022 or go through a much more acrimonious divorce than they would like.
I’d like to reassure clients that this is not the case.
We have always taken the approach of supporting couples who wish to have an amicable divorce. That means working within the guidelines set out in Resolution’s code of practice, which promotes a constructive approach and considers the needs of the whole family.
A key part of this is keeping divorce petitions as simple as possible. We actively discourage our clients from going into detail about the wrongdoings of their spouse. This blame game does no one any favours and simply makes the divorce process more stressful, longer and more expensive.
So, our approach over the coming months will be to continue to operate in the same way. We will strive for agreement and resolution while we wait for the introduction of a no fault divorce in 2022.