For a long time, family lawyers have been campaigning for a change in the law so that people can divorce without blaming the other person. In a major breakthrough, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act received Royal Assent on 25th June and removes blame and fault from the divorce process.
Whilst these changes are not expected to take effect until Autumn 2021 (the exact date has not yet been announced but the Government says the delay is “because time needs to be allowed for careful implementation”), the key changes can be summarised as follows:
- Irretrievable breakdown remains the sole ground for divorce BUT the need to prove adultery or unreasonable behaviour to justify bringing the marriage to an end has been removed – a statement confirming irretrievable breakdown is all that is required;
- The irretrievable breakdown statement is determinative meaning the divorce can only be challenged on a limited number of technical grounds such as jurisdiction or the validity of the marriage itself. This will remove the costly possibility of defended divorces;
- Spouses can make a joint application to the court to end their marriage so that one person does not have to petition the other;
- There must be a minimum of 6 months between the lodging of the petition and the divorce being made final;
- The language has been modernised. “Petitioners” will now become “Applicants”, the Decree Nisi will become a “Conditional Order” and the Decree Absolute will become a “Final Order”.
These changes are very welcome and long overdue. Divorce is difficult enough without having to allege blame or being the person against whom the blame is laid and this Bill changes this to allow for the prospect of a more dignified divorce process suitable for the 21st Century.