The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 came into force on 6 April 2022, bringing in the long-awaited no-fault divorce.
Family associate Katie O'Kelly discusses the five key changes introduced by the Act, including changes to divorce terminology and the fact that there is no longer a requirement to provide evidence of unreasonable behaviour.
The language surrounding divorce and dissolution has been changed to make it simpler and more accessible to those outside of the legal profession. Some of the key changes are as follows:
- Application (previously Petition): this is the document submitted to the court to apply for a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership
- Applicant (previously Petitioner): this is the person who submits the application to the court.
- Conditional Order (previously Decree Nisi): this is a document confirming that the court does not see any reason why the parties are unable to divorce or end their civil partnership.
- Final Order (previously Decree Absolute): this is the legal document that ends the marriage or civil partnership. Six weeks and one day must still pass from the conditional order before the applicant can apply for a final order.
2. Joint applications
Anyone applying for a divorce or to end their civil partnership will still be able to apply individually as a sole applicant. However, under the new law parties are now able to make joint applications and this is strongly encouraged, where appropriate. Rather than there being an applicant and a respondent, the parties will be known as applicant 1 and applicant 2, with the aim of reducing complexity and conflict.
3. No requirement to provide evidence of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or a period of separation
Instead of having to cite the other party’s conduct as the reason for the application or having to wait to rely on a period of separation, there is now a simple requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership.
4. Defending a divorce
It is no longer possible for a respondent to defend the decision to divorce or end the civil partnership. In a sole application, the respondent can dispute the application, but only in very limited circumstances, for example, if they dispute the jurisdiction of the court of England and Wales to conduct the proceedings, if they dispute the validity of the marriage or civil partnership in the first place, or if the marriage or civil partnership has already been legally ended.
The new law has seen an introduction of a 20-week time period between the start of proceedings (when the court issues the application for divorce or dissolution) and when the applicant(s) are able to apply for a conditional order. The purpose of this is to allow for a period of time to reflect and to resolve other matters in the interim, such as finances or child arrangements.
If you have any questions surrounding the introduction of no-fault divorce or any other family law related issues, please see our family law hub.
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