From 6th April 2022, there will be major changes to the law around divorce, separation, and the dissolution of civil partnerships.

The intention behind the changes is to lessen the adversarial nature of divorce and dissolution, and to align the processes more closely with modern attitudes.

They represent the biggest change to divorce law for around 50 years.

Here are the main changes:

  • Spouses can now jointly apply to end their marriage
  • No longer any need for one spouse to be ‘blamed’
  • Divorces started by only one spouse can no longer be contested by the other spouse
  • Key language involved in the divorce process has been modernised

About civil partnerships

The law on marriage and civil partnerships is broadly similar, and the new changes bring them into even closer alignment. For ease of reading, we’ve just referred to ‘divorce’, ‘spouse’, and ‘marriage’ below, but these are also intended to cover ‘dissolution of a civil partnership’, ‘civil partner’, and ‘civil partnership’ respectively (unless specifically stated otherwise). No disrespect is intended by this; including both forms when the underlying law is nearly always the same makes things very long-winded very quickly!

‘No blame’ divorce

Under the old law, spouses applying for a divorce had to demonstrate to the Court that their marriage had ‘irretrievably broken down’. They could do so by relying on one of the following reasons:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • 2 years separation (where the other spouse is consenting to the divorce)
  • 5 years separation (where the other spouse does not consent to the divorce)

And the first two of these reasons in particular involved allegations of ‘blameworthy’ behaviour – leading to many potential disputes and acrimony over ‘who did what’.

This situation is the same for civil partners, with the exception that ‘adultery’ is not one of the possible reasons.

From April 2022, however, all that is needed to begin divorce proceedings is for one (or both – see below) of the spouses to make an application stating that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. There will no longer be any need to bring up aspects of a spouse’s behaviour to justify this.

This will also be the case with judicial separation under the new law. There will be no need to provide any factual grounds for supporting the intention to separate. A spouse applying for judicial separation will just need to state that they are seeking to be separated.

Joint divorce applications

The old law requires one spouse to be the ‘petitioner’ and to apply for the divorce. There is no way for both spouses to jointly begin divorce proceedings. Spouses can act jointly in relation to a judicial separation, but this is different from divorce and does not result in a legal end to the marriage.

However, the new law will introduce the possibility for both spouses to make a joint divorce application. This involves them signing a joint statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Divorces cannot be contested

In keeping with the push to remove disputes from the divorce process, if one spouse is applying for a divorce, the new law does not allow the other spouse to contest it.

Instead, a ‘cooling-off’ period has been introduced. An applicant must wait 20 weeks, beginning from the date upon which the divorce proceedings were started, before the next step in the divorce process can be taken. Once that time is up, the applicant must confirm that they wish to proceed, in order for the divorce process to continue. An outline of the new divorce process is provided below.

Clearer language

You may have heard of a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute before. These archaic terms are being left behind when the new law comes into force.

The Decree Nisi will now be known as the Conditional Order, which is made once the initial cooling-off period has elapsed. The order essentially states that the Court sees no reason why a divorce cannot be granted, but does not bring the marriage to a legal end.

The Decree Absolute is being replaced by the Final Order, which finalises the divorce and legally ends the marriage.

In addition, someone applying for a divorce will no longer be known as the ‘petitioner’ but instead will be referred to as the ‘applicant’.

So what will the new divorce law process look like?

  1. One spouse, or both spouses, make a divorce application – this will involve providing a signed statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
  2. A period of 20 weeks must elapse after the application has been submitted.
  3. The Conditional Order – once this period is over, the applicant spouse or spouses must confirm whether they wish to continue with the divorce application, if so, the court will grant a Conditional Order.
  4. A further period of 6 weeks and 1 day must elapse after the Conditional Order has been granted.
  5. The Final Order – once the second period has elapsed, the Court may finalise the order and legally end the marriage.

Further information

You can find more information on getting a divorce or dissolving a civil partnership, on our dedicated web-pages. Or if you would like to talk to a specialist family law solicitor about your situation, please just get in touch with us.

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Catherine Reynolds
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