New Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act passed into law
Good news in the family law world this week – the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act received royal assent and so has been passed into law. Implementation is not expected until late 2021 (for reasons that are not clear) but the Act will –
- Remove the need for a spouse / civil partner wanting a divorce to give the court evidence that their marriage has broken down. For the first time in our history, a statement of irretrievable breakdown will be sufficient to get a divorce / dissolution without having to accuse the other spouse / partner of adultery or unreasonable behaviour or wait for a minimum separation period.
- Make the statement of irretrievable breakdown all the proof that is needed. This is incredibly important as it means, once either party to a marriage or civil partnership has told the court the marriage has broken down, the other party will not be able to contest that statement, so bringing an end to futile defended divorces.
- Allow both parties to the marriage to apply for divorce. So, in those new joint divorce cases, neither party will be able to claim the moral high ground by saying “I divorced him / her because of adultery / behaviour”.
- Introduce a minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of divorce proceedings until the first decree – the conditional order is made. There will be a further minimum period of 6 weeks before a final divorce order can be made, so the whole procedure will take a minimum of 6 months. This is designed to allow a cooling off period, just in case the parties change their minds and want to give the marriage another go.
In my time as a family lawyer, Parliament has not brought forward very much reform to family law. In my opinion, this Act ranks alongside domestic abuse reform of the 1990s and the civil partnership and same sex marriage reform of the last 20 years in terms of the cultural and social impact on our families. It brings divorce / dissolution law into the 21st century and does away with the paternalistic approach of previous generations and removes a source of anxiety and conflict in the divorce process.
There is much more to be done by Parliament in the world of family law, but this is a very welcome change.