Having recently had the opportunity to watch the BBC drama “The Split” I found that it highlighted the concerns that many family lawyers have had for a number of years, that the divorce process in England often hindered couples in being able to proceed with a divorce on an amicable basis.
This was as a result of the process often requiring the parties to apportion blame to the other. In the show, a very acrimonious stance was initially taken by the parties however, throughout the six episodes, the reality dawned that apportioning blame was not helping. A dialogue given by one character struck a chord with me. She said in essence, it is relatively easy to know how to marry but we often don’t know how to put as much care into how we divorce and what is hard is to know how to approach divorce. She goes on to say ‘after the shouting….lay down the accusations and resentments …wait for the dust to settle, breath and consider what life can offer next’.
Many separations are a mutual decision and it was therefore often uncomfortable for couples to try to apportion blame. In addition, some couples mistakenly believed that if one party can blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage then they would be entitled to a more favourable financial settlement (which was rarely the case!). This often led to unnecessary acrimony at the outset of the divorce process which set the tone for how those proceedings would progress to conclusion.
Legislation was initially proposed as far back as 1996 to allow couples to divorce by mutual agreement without blame. However, in recent years, and following a particularly difficult and hotly contested divorce application in the Supreme Court, there was momentum to reform the antiquated English divorce law and introduce “no-fault” divorce. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 receiving Royal Assent on 25 June 2020 and is now in force.
Under the new laws, one party, or the couple jointly, can now apply for a divorce by making a simple formal statement that the marriage had irretrievably broken down. The necessity to apportion blame is no longer required.
I have met numerous clients in the recent months who want to divorce however when given the stark options of waiting 2 years or apportioning blame on the basis of behaviour or adultery, they preferred to wait until after 6 April 2022 to issue those proceedings on a ‘no-fault’ basis when the new law came into force. The new law retains a requirement to have a period of reflection from the issue of the application to the making of a final divorce order of a minimum of 6 months in total. This period provides an opportunity to resolve the arrangements for the children and their finances if they have not done so already. The system has also been developed to enable applications to be made online by either solicitors or by clients direct (called “citizens”) streamlining the otherwise painfully slow and backlogged centralised court hub.
I understand that the Court has issued approximately 3,000 divorces in the first week of the new law having been in force. This will inevitably plateau and in my view shows that couples who have made the difficult decision to divorce have chosen to wait until the new law has come into force. They have considered the bigger picture and wanted to divorce without raising unpalatable allegations as to behaviour at the outset of proceedings.
The new law allows couples to formalise the end of their relationship in a dignified manner and allow them to focus on resolving the arrangements for their children and their future financial relationship.
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Published on 13 April 2022