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No-fault divorce delayed until 2022

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James Harbottle
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No-fault divorce delayed until 2022

Lauren Preedy - Senior Associate Solicitor - Head of Divorce and Relationships Team
Lauren Preedy – Senior Associate Solicitor – Head of Divorce and Relationships Team

The Government has announced that the new system of no-fault divorce, which it had previously indicated would come into force in the autumn, will not now do so until spring next year.

In a response to a parliamentary question on the progress towards implementing the Act that brings in the new law, Chris Philp MP said last week that the Government now intends to bring the Act into force on the 6th of April 2022.

Under the present system anyone wishing to divorce before they have been separated for two years has to prove that the breakdown of the marriage was due to their spouse committing adultery or behaving unreasonably. The new Act will do away with this need to attribute blame for the breakdown of the marriage.

Under the new system all that will be required is for one or both of the parties to file with the court a statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. There will be no requirement to explain why the marriage broke down.

Once the statement has been filed a minimum period of twenty weeks must elapse before the court can make a conditional divorce order, the equivalent of the present decree nisi. A further six weeks must then elapse before the court can make the divorce final.

Online divorce delaysNo-fault divorce delayed meeting with solicitors

Chris Philp explained that the reason for the delay in bringing in the new system was the time that it has taken for all of the necessary changes to be put into effect.

These changes include new rules, new procedures, new court forms, and amendments to the online digital divorce service.
Mr Philp said that, following detailed design work, it is now clear that the amendments to the online service, along with the “full and rigorous testing of the new system ahead of implementation”, will not conclude before the end of the year.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service recently announced that more than 100,000 online divorce applications had been received since the service was launched in April 2018.

Fixed date

But it is not all bad news.

As mentioned above, under the new system a divorce will take a minimum of twenty-six weeks. Under the present system a divorce based on adultery or unreasonable behaviour can, if all goes well, go through in considerably less time. The delay therefore gives more time to get one of these ‘quicker’ divorces.

And previously the Government had not committed to a set date for the Act to come into force. Now, for the first time, it has done so, and this is a good thing.

As Nigel Shepherd, the former Chair of Resolution, the association of family lawyers, commented: “Whilst any delay is disappointing, we do now have certainty over the introduction of this important reform, and will be able to advise clients accordingly.”

Planning aheadonline mediation

Under the present system it is possible for someone to obtain a divorce without attributing blame for the marriage breakdown if they have been separated for two years and the other party consents to the divorce, or if they have been separated for five years, without needing the consent of the other party.

The fixed date for the introduction of no-fault divorce now means that anyone wanting one of these ‘blameless’ divorces, because they can’t prove adultery or unreasonable behaviour, or simply don’t want to attribute blame, now knows where they stand.
For example, anyone who separated before the 6th of April 2020 will still be able to get their divorce on the basis of two years separation and consent under the present system, and anyone who separated after that date will no longer have to wait for the full two years, because they will be able to apply for a no-fault divorce before then.

So as we approach the deadline, there may be some who are eager to get a quicker divorce before the new system comes in, and others who will be happy to wait, so that they don’t need to attribute blame when they get their divorce.

Obviously, there are many other considerations to take into account when contemplating divorce, and you should therefore seek the advice of an expert family lawyer.

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