Further delays to the new divorce law!
It was announced this week that the long-awaited Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act of 2020, which will finally allow married couples to divorce without needing to assign blame, will come into force on 6 April 2022. The Bill was first introduced in June of 2019 following a public consultation and was bought before parliament following the General Election. It passed its final stage on 17 June 2020 and will finally be in force almost two years later.
This ends the anticipation surrounding the previous hope that the law would be in force this autumn and thankfully many practitioners have been advising clients not to rely on that date and which has turned out to be sound advice.
Whilst it is frustrating that the date is being pushed back again, the official reason given is that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service need to make substantial IT changes to the online divorce systems and which could not be achieved by the originally planned autumn deadline.
However, the good news for clients and family practitioners alike is that the date is now a matter of parliamentary fixed record so must be adhered to rather than a vague promise of some time in the autumn of 2021 as before.
Given the significant issues with IT that divorcing couples and family lawyers alike are facing with the current online court systems, it is to be hoped that this additional time will give HMCTS the time to make the system work properly and effectively.
The new law could not come sooner for most separating couples and their lawyers. An end at last to the blame culture that has plagued family law for so long is in sight and this is to be applauded. Instead of having to establish periods of separation, desertion, unreasonable behaviour or adultery as is currently the case, the new law
- Replace the current requirement to evidence either a conduct or separation ‘fact’ with the provision of a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (for the first time, couples can opt to make this a joint statement).
- Remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce, as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
- Introduce a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a conditional order of divorce may be made, allowing greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible and divorce is inevitable.
This is welcome news for family lawyers as so often, when advising clients upon divorce, the reason the marriage has broken down has nothing to do with unreasonable behaviour or for that matter adultery. The couple have simply grown apart and wish to be divorced but they do not wish to have to wait for 2 years or 5 years to do so to avoid assigning blame.
It is perhaps not surprising that our current divorce laws are so archaic. After all they were introduced in 1973 at a time when the world was a very different place indeed. It is certainly time they were changed to bring modernity to family law and to enable separating couples to end their marriage respectfully and without having to assign fault.