The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act received Royal Assent on 25th June 2020.
What changes are being proposed to divorce?
Currently, in order to get divorced without waiting for at least two years, one spouse must allege either adultery or that the other spouse has behaved in such a way that the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with him or her, and the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This requires giving examples of such behaviour or conduct. Same sex couples can only rely upon the other's behaviour if they do not want to have to wait two years.
Under the new Act, a spouse or civil partner will only have to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. It will not be possible for the other spouse to contest the basis of the divorce. The Act also provides an option allowing couples to jointly apply for divorce, where the decision is a mutual one.
Why are these changes needed?
Specialist family lawyers, and other groups supporting those who are going through a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, have long felt that the current law creates unnecessary conflict. Clients are often surprised to be told that despite both spouses agreeing to a divorce, if neither of them has committed adultery (or if they are in a same sex relationship), they must either wait until they have been separated for two years, or one must give examples in the petition of how their spouse has behaved unreasonably. Even in the most amicable divorce, this increases animosity and tension at an already difficult time.
Although some opponents of the changes object to the fact that where one spouse states that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, the other would no longer be able to contest the divorce, the vast majority of divorces are already uncontested. Those that start as contested divorces are usually resolved on an uncontested basis. This can highlight the unnecessary pain caused by the current process, where the respondent spouse has to read unpleasant things about their behaviour, even though they agree that the marriage has broken down.
It is hoped that the changes will create a kinder and more transparent process for those who are starting divorce or dissolution proceedings, so that it is no longer necessary to apportion blame for the breakdown of the relationship. Reducing conflict at the outset can only be positive, particularly when there are children.
When are any changes likely to be brought in?
Although the Act has received Royal Assent, the practical aspects of the new system will need to be put in place. A date for the new regime to be available to couples will be appointed, but it is not expected to be before 2021.
Does this mean I will be able to get a ‘quickie divorce’?
In short, no. There is no such thing as a 'quickie divorce'. This term is sometimes used to refer to a divorce based on adultery or unreasonable behaviour, as they do not require a period of separation. However, the divorce process itself will not be any quicker. In fact, under the new Act, there will be a minimum six-month period between sending the petition to the court and the divorce being made final, which does not exist at the moment.
Currently, in theory, it is possible to get divorced in three to four months, depending on how quickly the court and the parties deal with matters. However, it is common practice to resolve all financial issues before finalising the divorce, which tends to delay the process and this will not change under the new law.