Family lawyers across the country are bracing themselves for a busy week ahead as the first Monday in January marks ‘Divorce Day’ – when lawyers see a surge in enquiries following the festive break.
Divorce Day 2022 holds particular significance, however, as come April this year, long-awaited ‘no-fault’ divorce will become legislation, bringing in significant changes to the way couples apply for a legal separation.
After years of discussion, on 6 April 2022, the landmark Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will come into force, allowing married couples to divorce without assigning blame or fault.
This changes the age-old practice of couples having to be separated for at least two years, or to have proof of their partner being at fault.
It’s hoped this change in law will remove some of the stress and strain of finding blame when people don’t want to, or are unable to wait two years to divorce on grounds of separation, or five years if they don’t have the consent of the other spouse.
According to Jane Charlton, legal director and family lawyer in the London office of law firm Shakespeare Martineau, the change is long overdue.
Jane says: “We’ve been waiting a number of years for no-fault divorce to be an option for UK couples. England and Wales have lagged behind many other countries around the world who’ve long had a more progressive attitude to divorce.
“Being able to separate without playing the blame game will take a lot of heartache and ‘mudslinging’ out of the process entirely. Particularly where there are children involved, trying to find fault where there simply isn’t any can be extremely damaging.
“Divorce Day isn’t a happy occasion and certainly not one to be celebrated. Marriages break down for a huge number of reasons and more often than not, it’s that couples simply don’t love each other as they once did. It is believed the surge in the New Year is due to couples being cooped up during the Christmas period or halting proceedings to avoid a messy divorce over the holidays.
“There shouldn’t be a stigma around divorce and hopefully being able to separate on a no-fault basis will improve the experience no end.”
In the coming months, it’s essential couples who have been waiting to separate on a no-fault basis begin plans and discussions.
Jane continues: “Open discussions are crucial here. While it’s unlikely that the process of choosing to go through a no-fault divorce will be any faster, couples would be wise to start talking about when they are going to do it and to think about making the application together so there are no surprises or disagreements further down the line.”
The legal profession has campaigned for no-fault divorce for a number of years, but there are still improvements to be made to the divorce process in terms of equality. For example, adultery cannot be cited as grounds for divorce in same-sex marriages, as adultery is only recognised between two people of the opposite sex.
Currently, the accepted ground for divorce in same-sex couples are:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Two years desertion
- You’ve been separated for two (consent required) or five years (no consent required)
Jane adds: “Previous attempts to reform divorce laws fell flat because some believed if blame was removed from the process, ease would encourage people to separate. However, anyone who has worked with divorcing couples knows this isn’t the case – the majority go into it after a lot of heartache and it isn’t a process they undertake lightly.
“Allocating blame is unfair and often results in more conflict. It can also lead to increasing legal fees as people look to contest the divorce and the reasonings.
“While this long-awaited and important change being just around the corner is great news for many couples, there is still a long way to go in improving the process to ensure it is fair for all.”
For more information or advice around ‘no-fault’ divorce, contact Shakespeare Martineau’s family team.