On 6 April 2022 a wholesale change to divorce law came into force with the grounds for divorce changing from a fault-based system to a single no-fault ground. It is hoped that the change will take some of the tension out of divorce.
For decades to obtain a divorce a petitioner (applicant) would have to state that their marriage had broken down irretrievably and prove one of a number of statutory grounds, the most common being ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or adultery. The alternative would mean having to wait for a period of two- or five-years’ separation. The grounds for divorce could cause acrimony and gave the opportunity to defend a petition, often only for tactical reasons. The new law simply requires one or both spouses (or civil partners) to state that the marriage (or civil partnership) has irretrievably broken down. No reason for the breakdown is given.
The only circumstances in which an application for divorce can be challenged are on jurisdictional grounds or if the validity of the marriage is challenged. A challenge on jurisdictional grounds will be because either England and Wales lacks the jurisdiction to deal with the divorce (because neither spouse has sufficient connection to England and Wales), or it may be more appropriate for another country to deal with the divorce. A marriage may not be valid if it didn’t comply with the legal formalities of the country where it took place, e.g. there was only a religious ceremony in a country which requires a civil ceremony to be performed.
An application for divorce can either be made by one of the spouses (or civil partners) or by both. Joint applications are strongly encouraged, but it will make little, if any, difference whether the application is a sole or joint one. The divorce process from start to finish will take a minimum of 26 weeks from the issuing of the application to a final order. Once a divorce application is issued it has to be served within 28 days. There is then a 20-week ‘period of reflection’ before a conditional order can be applied for. It is hoped that any disputes regarding finances and/or children can be resolved during this period. There will be limited circumstances when the process can be expedited.
Not less than six weeks after the conditional order is made, is it open to apply for a final order when the divorce is then finalised.
The changes will make the divorce process simpler. Inevitably, there will be some people who will feel aggrieved that they will not have their spouse’s wrongdoings considered by a judge, but they should be in the minority.
If you are affected by similar issues or would like to have a related discussion in confidence, please contact a member of the Family team direct or email email@example.com or call us direct on 020 7091 2869.
The above is accurate as at 11 April 2022. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.