The much anticipated change in matrimonial law commonly referred to as 'no fault divorce' will come into effect in April 2022. It had been expected to come into place in Autumn 2021, but delays to preparing the technical side of the new systems have meant a delay of several months. While this will be disappointing for many people, as our Courts move to an increasingly online system it is important that the technology is ready to follow.
What is 'no fault divorce'?
Even if slightly later than expected, no fault divorce will bring in a fundamental change to English law. As it stands, to be granted a divorce you have to show a period of separation or blame the end of the marriage on adultery or the other person’s behaviour. This has long been thought to add unnecessary hostility to a process which is already emotional and can be difficult, so there has been a long running campaign to end this. Even in fairly amicable separations, the examples of unreasonable behaviour need to be strong enough to be accepted by the Court. This can increase tensions.
After the reform, it will be sufficient to have a statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is key as it will mean that the Court essentially takes a couple at their word about their marriage, rather than asking them to prove or justify their decision. It will be possible, if couples wish to do so, to put in a joint application. This is to enable couples who feel it is a joint decision, not to have to make one person the instigator of the divorce.
Another significant difference is that the opportunity to defend a divorce i.e. to refuse to accept the marriage has broken down, will no longer exist. This should avoid the expense and upset of contested divorce proceedings.
Is this cause for celebration?
So does this mean that divorce will be too easy and will this reform lead to instant divorces? No. As a balance to the new process, the law brings in longer waiting periods. Overall, it will not be possible to finalise a divorce in less than six months. While for some people this is too short a period, if there are financial or children matters to be dealt with, discussions can take place in that period.
Some people will therefore be considering, in light of the delay, whether it is worth waiting until the law changes to commence divorce proceedings. While this might be an attractive choice, it is worth taking legal advice about your options as, in certain circumstances, it may have an impact on matrimonial finances or children matters.
For others, waiting until April 2022 to start divorce proceedings may not be the right option and so agreeing a divorce on the current grounds may be the best choice for them. If it is possible to agree the basis for the divorce this can work to reduce the emotional impact of the divorce process. Going forwards however, once the law has changed, this should be a step towards making the process of separation slightly less difficult.
For further information on the incoming reform, please contact one of our expert family lawyers. You can also read our previous briefing on the subject via our website.