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‘No-Fault’ Divorce Law Delayed

Unwelcome, although not entirely unexpected, news came this week that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (no-fault divorce), a statute which will replace ‘fault-based’ divorce law, will now not come into force until 6th April 2022. This has been delayed from this coming Autumn.

Campaigners have been lobbying for a change to the current adversarial divorce law for decades. The current law arises from the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, an act which is some 50 years old and arguably from a time where attitudes in relation to marriage and divorce were very different.

The new law will retain the single ground for divorce – irretrievable breakdown of the marriage – but will remove the requirement to cite a ‘fact’ in support. 3/5 of these facts require separation for at least 2 years and are therefore unavailable to most divorcing couples.

The remaining two facts are adultery and ‘unreasonable’ behaviour. The latter is by far the most commonly relied upon. It requires one spouse to cite instances of the other’s behaviour which often are overstated to meet the legal test. In cases where couples have simply drifted apart, they can be denied a divorce which was the unfortunate outcome in the infamous case of Owens v Owens.

Reform began to come about soon after this case and the Bill first emerged in January 2020. It obtained Royal Assent in June 2020 and was set to come into force this Autumn. Unfortunately, the act hit a number of roadblocks and the delayed date was revealed in parliamentary questions and answers.

The Government has said that it is ‘essential that we take the time to get this right’ – citing that ‘the new divorce process will work to reduce conflict, which is especially damaging for children’. The delay has been attributed to the time required to make appropriate changes to HMCTS’s online divorce systems.

Resolution, a collective of family law practitioners and long-time advocates for the new law, have said that the fixed date, rather than the previous indicative timetable, gives certainty and enables legal advisers to appropriately advise clients.

For ourselves at Hawkins Family Law and others in the field of family law, the changes can not come soon enough and are eagerly awaited. If you would like advice about how the divorce law changes may affect you (including whether you should wait until the No Fault Divorce bill comes into effect), or other advice tailored to your unique circumstances, please contact us.

Having graduated in July 2017 with a first class honours degree in law from the University of Bedfordshire, Holly has since been exploring her interest in Family Law. She is currently undertaking her postgraduate LPC and masters course to qualify as a family solicitor. Holly joined Hawkins Family Law in August 2017. She has previously volunteered with public legal advice services and currently is enjoying a new challenge having recently begun a paralegal role at Hawkins Family Law.

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