On 6 April, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 came into force, bringing about some of the biggest changes we have seen in family law for decades. Our Hereford family law team sum up the key points you need to know:
Chris Finch: “Under the new law, the applicant needs only to confirm that their marriage has broken down irretrievably. This removes the previous requirement under the old law to establish one of five facts, three of which were fault-based, creating a ‘no-fault’ divorce system. Divorcing couples can also now make a joint application to the court, rather than just a sole application.
“There has also been an overhaul of language adopted by the court. ‘Divorce petition’ has been replaced by ‘application’ and the court has done away with the old Latin terms ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’, replacing them with ‘conditional order’ and ‘final order’.
“The final notable amendment relates to timing. Under the new law, the applicant cannot apply for a conditional order until 20 weeks after the date of the initial application. The intention behind this is to allow a period of reflection. As before, the applicant must then wait a further six weeks from the date of conditional order before applying for the final order.”
How has the new law been received?
Maxine Reid: “The new law has generally been very well received. It’s been a long time coming for many practitioners and hopefully it will enable separating couples to focus on the real issues, such as dividing their matrimonial property and child arrangements.”
What about financial issues?
Nick Rodriguez, the new head of our family law team in Hereford: “Separating couples must remember that financial claims arising from their marriage/civil partnership are not automatically ended following divorce. It is essential that these are properly dealt with and addressed as part of the process in the form of a financial order. This can be a complex area of the law, so specialist advice is always encouraged!”
Is there anything else to look out for?
Andy Caldicott: “I think one of the potential issues I can foresee with the new law is the wait time from the date of the initial application to conditional order. It is only at this stage in the proceedings that the court’s power to make/approve financial orders is unlocked. Therefore, if couples are able to agree early on what they wish to do with their matrimonial finances, they could face a significant wait before the court can make a legally binding order confirming their agreement.”
Does this affect arrangements for children?
Lauren Nash: “No, the law remains the same in relation to children. Hopefully the removal of fault-based divorce will remove a lot of unnecessary acrimony and stress for separating couples and enable them to preserve the best possible relationship for their children.”