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What are the new Divorce laws in UK?

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Priti Mayor explains what a Divorce may look like in 2021

As we entered 2021 still in the grips of the pandemic it was true to say that no one in 2020 had escaped the impact it had on one’s daily life. It affected the way we worked, our finances, physical health, mental health and of course our relationships. Suddenly we were forced to spend a great deal of time with our spouses, working, eating, sleeping, watching tv all in the confines of our homes with no escape. Even the strongest relationships were put to the test. 

Historically, family solicitors always see a surge in enquires relating to divorce in the New Year and this year was certainly no exception.

Traditionally, the first Monday when people return to work after the Christmas festive break is called 'Divorce Day'. This year it was on the 4th January and saw a record number of enquiries relating to divorce. 

Why did the number of Divorces increase in 2020?  

The enforced period couples and families spend together at Christmas often highlights the cracks in a relationship and bring money worries to the forefront creating additional friction.  Many organisations committed to helping couples such as Relate, and family mediation services also see an increase in enquires at the same time.   

It is therefore of no surprise that during the several lockdowns of 2020, when relationships were really put through the ringer, there was also a boom in divorce enquires and a significant rise in the commencement of divorce proceedings.

The data on divorce in the UK is compiled by the Office of National Statistics  (www.ons.gov.uk ) whose last release date was 17th November 2020. What is clear from the latest statistics is that the number of couples divorcing in the last few years has increased and this is true for both opposite sex couples and same sex couples with unreasonable behaviour being the most common reason.   The next release date by ONS is provisionally going to be during October to November 2021,and that will certainly make interesting reading.

What are the new grounds for Divorce in 2021?

On the 25th June 2020 legislation was passed in relation to the ‘no fault’ divorce. This was embodied in the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. The Ministry of Justice has just announced that  the  DDSA 2020, which received Royal Assent on 25 June 2020, will now have a commencement date of 6 April 2022. Previous indications had been that the government was working towards an indicative timetable of Autumn 2021. 

So from April 2022 you  will be able to use this new legislation to commence divorce proceedings and you will not have to rely on a specific grounds for divorce.

The new legislation allows for one party to the marriage or the couple jointly to file divorce proceedings stating the marriage has irretrievably broken down but without any supporting ground.

How does the new  divorce legislation differ from our existing law on divorce? 

Well at present one party is required to present a Divorce petition on the basis that the marriage has irretrievably broken down supported by one of the following grounds

  • unreasonable behaviour
  • adultery
  • two year separation
  • five year separation

Under the new law at long last there is no need to apportion blame and this should have the effect of reducing tension and conflict in what is already a very difficult situation for most.

It will allow the parties to concentrate on the children and finances. The new law does require the parties to have a period of reflection (26 weeks) from filing the petition before the divorce can be finalised so it is not necessarily quicker than the process that is currently used. 

What are the benefits of issuing a Divorce petition under the new legislation?

Filing for a divorce and submitting applications for a child arrangement order and or financial settlement are complex matters which are dealt with with emotions are running high.

In the coming weeks I shall set out the current procedure on divorce and how this will differ from the new procedure and whether it is worth waiting for the ‘no fault’ divorce.  

In summary I would say that,  the downside under the new rule is that you have to have a 26 week reflection period from the date of issuing your petition. On the upside, the new rule gives couples the opportunity to file for divorce without apportion of blame.

If you are in a relationship that you feel may have broken down and do not know where to turn  I am happy to talk to you and answer your enquiries with the compassion you need.

When thinking about going through a divorce you need a calm, friendly and caring solicitor who has the time to explain all of your options and what is best for you and your family.

I can be contacted via email Priti Mayor or on 01708 745183