‘Divorce Day’: Top family lawyer welcomes biggest shake-up in divorce laws for 50 years

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• Removing conflict will make it simpler and quicker to agree financial settlements and arrangements for children.

• ‘Divorce Day’ this year may well turn out to be 6 April, when no-fault divorce law comes into force, rather than 10th January. 

A top divorce lawyer has welcomed changes in the law that will make no-fault divorces a reality this year, saying it will make it easier to agree lasting and fair financial settlements and arrangements for children, and reduce costs for couples. 

The long-awaited Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will come into force on 6 April 2022, introducing no-fault divorce in England and Wales. The new legislation brings the law up to date, enabling divorce to be granted without any requirement to apportion blame for the breakdown of the marriage, thereby making proceedings far less contentious. 

The Act is the biggest shake up of divorce laws in England and Wales for nearly 50 years. Currently divorcing couples must rely on one of five options if they wish to prove to the Court their marriage has broken down. Most couples are left relying on adultery or the other party’s unreasonable behaviour unless they have been prepared to wait two years to divorce by consent or desertion or alternatively after a period of separation of five years. 

This system of ‘blame’ often leads to a further deterioration of relations in already difficult circumstances, which then adversely impacts the chances of divorcing parties amicably agreeing on other matters such as financial negotiations and arrangements for their children. 

Under the new legislation, couples will have the option to submit a joint application for divorce, this should also lead to a more constructive process. The option for a respondent to oppose a divorce will be removed. This will put an end to lengthy and costly proceedings that often result in increased acrimony. 

As a result, the traditional ‘Divorce Day’ (the first working Monday in January every year), may well be usurped this year as ‘the busiest day for family lawyers’, as couples wait for the new framework on 6th April. 

Changes introduced by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships. 

Sally Harris, family law expert at Howes Percival explained, “Current divorce legislation came into force in 1973 when society was very different than today. Family law professionals have long been campaigning for a simpler, less acrimonious route to divorce. 

“The much-needed new no-fault system removes conflict in the divorce process at the very earliest point. Lawyers will no longer be required to negotiate and draft allegations to go into a divorce petition. Hopefully, this will provide couples with the ability to be more conciliatory and maintain a positive relationship for the future as far as possible. 

“Financial settlements and arrangements for children will probably be unaltered, but the way forward may be easier without the parties being potentially involved in unpleasant and often hotly disputed allegations of blame. A no-fault system is also likely to speed the process for divorcing couples and reduce costs compared with the current approach. Divorcing and separating is never easy, therefore shortening the length of time it takes is likely to be beneficial for divorcing couples and their families.” 

Sally Harris concluded, “Whether couples should wait to divorce until the new rules come into force in the Spring is entirely dependent on their current situation. Those who don’t need to divorce immediately have the option of waiting to proceed under the new rules. Their divorce can then avoid the need to apportion blame. However, there may be circumstances where it is not possible either for practical or legal reasons to wait. Those couples have little option other than to navigate their way through the current blame-based system.” 

Howes Percival’s Family Law team provides a fully integrated and comprehensive service for high-net-worth individuals and family businesses. The team works closely with other legal experts within the firm to advise on all aspects of relationships and family matters, including those relating to children, property, family and farming businesses, estates, wills, probate, trusts and tax. 

All Howes Percival family lawyers are members of Resolution, a national organisation of family lawyers and other professionals committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes. While the team will strive to get the best result for clients by agreement, they are also experienced litigators and will represent clients’ interests in Court robustly when necessary. 

For more details on Howes Percival’s Family Law team: https://www.howespercival.com/services/family-services/