The most significant change to UK divorce laws in 50 years is due to come into effect on 6th April 2022. The aim of the new law is to help reduce conflict between separating spouses and make starting the divorce process easier. Removing the need to attribute blame will hopefully help couples focus from the very outset on arrangements for their children and resolving financial issues.
What is the current law?
Under the current law there is only one ground for a divorce, namely that the marriage has broken down irretrievably which has to be evidenced by relying one of the following five facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation with consent and five years separation. This means that for couples who have not been separated for at least two years they currently have no option but to rely on either adultery or unreasonable behaviour to obtain a divorce.
What does no fault divorce mean for separating couples?
Under the new law, the sole ground for a divorce will remain irretrievable breakdown of the marriage but there will no longer be a requirement to cite a reason for the breakdown or evidence a minimum period of separation. The family team at Hart Brown are really pleased that clients will no longer have to recount painful events that happened in the past or read criticisms regarding their alleged behaviour all of which can increase conflict and costs. A statement of irretrievable breakdown can be submitted by one spouse or for the first time spouses can make a joint application. There will also be a minimum period of 20 weeks from starting the divorce process and the first stage of the divorce to give parties time for reflection and to deal with the finances and child arrangements. The option of contesting a divorce has also been removed which will save time and costs for many couples.
Should you wait until 6th April 2022?
This will depend on the circumstances of the case. The process under the new law will not be quicker. It will take a minimum period of 6 months to obtain a divorce but in reality will take longer as it is anticipated that the Courts will be inundated with applications in April. If your spouse is likely to contest the divorce or if you have not been separated for at least two years it would be sensible to wait for the new law. However, if you and your spouse agree that the marriage has broken down and you wish to formalise the separation and financial settlement without delay you may want to consider starting the proceedings now under the current law. Applications under the existing law must be submitted to the Court by no later than 31st March.
Whatever your position it is important to seek early legal advice particularly if you have arrangements for children and financial issues to formalise all of which our experienced team are able to assist with.
*This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.