From 6th April 2022, estranged couples in the UK can file for divorce without attributing blame, following the enactment of the long-awaited government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.
Hailing the biggest change in divorce law for half a century, the Act will drastically reform the current divorce process, removing the concept of fault and reducing the impact that allegations may have on children and the individuals separating.
The current divorce system in England and Wales requires one spouse (the petitioner) to initiate the process of filing for divorce and, in the process, make an accusation about the other spouse’s (the respondent) conduct, creating an imbalance from the start of the divorce.
Whilst the removal of blame will be one of the key changes, there are several other variations to be enacted within the new law that couples looking to separate need to be aware of.
Neil Remnant, head of family law & chartered legal executive at JMP Solicitors, comments: “This new law has been long-awaited and welcomed by many family lawyers and is set to change the divorce process significantly. Due to this change, we anticipate that many couples will want to re-evaluate their position from previous advice they may have received.
“For individuals or couples seeking to separate – it’s important that each party is aware of how this law may affect their rights and financial circumstances, whether they are already divorcing or thinking about separating in the near future.
“Relationship breakdowns can be incredibly distressing and complicated, with plenty of difficult decisions and arrangements to think about. It is always highly advised to seek legal advice from specialist family lawyers who can help you navigate the new process, individual to your set of circumstances, whilst providing support during an undoubtedly stressful time.”
Here are the key changes couples should be aware of:
Couples can make a joint application
The new law will allow couples to apply to end their marriage together, jointly giving couples the ability to begin the process on fairer, more amicable terms.
Divorces can be granted without attribution of blame
Currently, a reason must be given for the divorce; the options are Adultery, Unreasonable behaviour, Desertion or two years separation with a joint agreement, or five years separation, even if the other party disagrees with unreasonable behaviour being the most common ground
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will allow individuals or couples to apply for a divorce without such personal allegations, with the intention to remove the needless antagonism created, so families can move on much more quickly. The government has stated that this will fall in line with their family justice approach, highlighting the need to “avoid confrontation wherever possible and reduce its damaging effects on children in particular.” 
All that is required from 6th April is for one party to provide a legal statement explaining that the marriage has broken down (and nothing more), which cannot be contested by the other spouse.
The ability to contest divorce is no longer allowed
One of the more significant changes is that the ability to defend a divorce has been removed. Removing the allegation means there isn’t any reason the other party can contest the divorce. This could raise concerns for the circumstances of one party who disagrees with the separation – as there is no means to prevent the divorce from being enacted. In these cases, early legal advice on the implications of the divorce is recommended.
Cooling off period for a minimum of 20 weeks
In order to provide a period of reflection, the new law will enforce a minimum period of 20 weeks from the beginning of proceedings to confirmation when the ‘decree nisi’ (decree of divorce) is officially granted by the court. The intention is to allow the couple to fully consider their decision during the process and encourage couples to cooperate – under the current law, the process can be shorter, with a divorce able to be processed within 3-4 months.
You can contact Neil Remnant, head of family law at JMP Solicitors, via the firm’s website, www.jmp-solicitors.com.
Read more lifestyle news and guides here.