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No Fault Divorce and Dissolution of Civil Partnerships

View profile for Donna Leigh
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The law up to now

Until now, the only ground for divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership was ‘irretrievable breakdown’. In relation to divorce, the petitioner was required evidence this irretrievable breakdown by proving one of 5 facts, as follows:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. Separation for 2 years, with the consent of both the petitioner and respondent
  5. Separation for 5 years

Adultery was not a fact that could be relied upon by petitioners applying for dissolution of a civil partnership. A petitioner for dissolution had to prove either unreasonable behaviour, desertion or 2/5 years separation.

As such, ‘no-fault’ divorce/dissolution was not possible until parties have been separated for a period of 2 years (if consent of the respondent is forthcoming) or 5 years (in the absence of consent). This has meant that either fault must be proven, which would often heighten animosity between the parties, or significant delay would be incurred. The delay was of particular concern to petitioners where the co-operation and consent of the other party was not forthcoming, leaving them with no choice but to either cite fault of the other party or wait for 5 years. This often led to difficulties in addressing matrimonial finances, preventing people moving on with their lives.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into effect on 6th April 2022 and brings with it the long-awaited modification to the law in this area and allows, for the first time, divorce and dissolution of civil partnerships on a no-fault basis, without the need to wait for 2 or 5 years. 

What is ‘No-Fault’ divorce?

The intention of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is to make divorce a less acrimonious process. The requirement to prove fault on the part of the respondent or wait 2/5 years has been removed. It is now possible to issue proceedings declaring only that the marriage or civil partnership has broken down irretrievably. This can now be done at any time following the first year of marriage/civil partnership.

Divorce/dissolution has often been a highly contentious matter, which is difficult for parties to navigate. Up to now, it was possible for the respondent to contest the proceedings. This has also been removed. Under the new law, it will not now be possible for a respondent to contest divorce or dissolution proceedings.

In addition, for the first time, separated couples can make an application for divorce or dissolution on a joint basis, rather than one party issuing proceedings against the other.

How does it work?

 The procedure remains similar. There is still a ‘two-stage’ process, however Decree Nisi and Decree Absolutes have been replaced by ‘Conditional Orders’ and ‘Final Orders’ respectively.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 introduces a mandatory 20 week from the date of the application to the date of the application for a Conditional Order. This is essentially a cooling off period. A further 6 weeks must elapse between the date of the Condition Order and Final Order, taking the overall time frame to 26 weeks (6 months).

Whereas up to now, the majority of divorces have been dealt with by way of paper application, the Court service now has an online portal, which can be utilised for a paper-free process.

How can we help?

The objectives of the reforms are to reduce animosity between parties and as a result, to limit delay and distress. At Fieldings Porter we welcome the changes, which modernise this area of law. We recognise that the move from an adversarial to a more transactional approach will reduce hostilities between parties, and give parties the opportunity to divorce or dissolve civil partnerships in a more conciliatory way.

Our team of family law experts are here to help. Should you wish to discuss divorce or dissolution proceedings, please contact us on 01204 540900.