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2022 brings significant change to divorce law

The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act

Divorce, living together and family issues

It’s quite common for divorce lawyers to comment that they get busier after Christmas. That is not surprising because research shows that financial pressures are often a major contributor to divorce and when the credit card bills start arriving after the Christmas family spend, it can be the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ in some already strained marriages.

Some divorce lawyers also say that spending a lot of time indoors together over Christmas, without the distractions that you normally get on summer holidays in the sun, can drive some couples to conclude that they no longer want to be together.

But divorce in 2022 may be different than it is now because The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act is due to come into force in April 2022.

At the moment the only ground for divorce is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and that can only be proved in one of five ways:

·        Adultery

·        Unreasonable behaviour

·        Desertion for at least 2 years

·        Separation for at least 2 years with the spouse consenting to divorce

·        Separation for 5 years

Most divorces have been issued on the adultery or unreasonable behaviour grounds. That has required proving “fault” on behalf of one spouse. It has not been possible for spouses to jointly present a divorce petition. Instead, one has had to divorce the other.

All of that has meant that it has sometimes tended to poison the atmosphere between divorcing couples as one has had to blame the other and it does not, in the eyes of many divorce lawyers, help to get discussions about children and finances off to an amicable start.

Recognising this the Government has passed the 2020 Act. It will still be necessary to show irretrievable breakdown of the marriage but that can be done by the divorce petitioner simply providing a statement to that effect. It will also be possible for couples to present joint divorce petitions. All of this should mean that one spouse will not have to “blame” the other in order to get a divorce.

It will not be possible for one spouse to contest the divorce on the grounds that the marriage has not irretrievably broken down – although there will still be a number of very technical and rare defences such as jurisdiction, which don’t apply to the vast majority of marriages.

Some of the language is also being modernised so the stages will no longer be a decree nisi and decree absolute but instead it will be conditional divorce order and final divorce order.

It’s important to realise though that there will be waiting and notice periods, along with what are likely to be inevitable administrative delays in Court process, so Divorce will not be instant. It’s not unknown for people to book a wedding on the basis that they expect to be divorced to then find delays prevent the divorce coming through and the wedding going ahead on the planned day.

Perhaps of greater relevance to most couples, it’s also important to know that this change in Divorce law does not change the law as it relates to children and finances on divorce. Even though it may become more straightforward to get divorced, it will still be necessary to reach agreements on children and finances. The law in those areas can be complex, and if in doubt about your position it is a good idea to consult a lawyer specialising in that area.