Currently, divorcing couples have to have one party issue a divorce petition stating that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and that one of five grounds applies (adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, 2 years separation with consent, or 5 years separation). Under the new law the sole criterion will be that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. There will be no need to rely on a specific ground that “blames” the other party for the divorce. It is hoped that this will remove the acrimony from the divorce process and enable parties to divorce without the need for recriminations. This will enable the parties to focus on the more important aspects of their separation: separating their finances and making arrangements for their children.
It will also be possible for parties to file a joint divorce petition. For many couples having to have one party file the divorce petition and be assigned the title of “petitioner” feels unfair as the “respondent” to the petition is then seen as the party to blame. Often this does not reflect the reality that the marriage has broken down and both parties accept that the time to divorce has arrived. Filing jointly may, to many, feel more equitable.
The language around divorce has been simplified and updated by the new Act. “Decree Nisi” will become a “Conditional Order” and “Decree Absolute” will become a “Final Order”.
The new law also removes the ability of one party to defend the divorce. For more information see my article “What happens if I don’t want a divorce? Defended divorces and the DDSA 2020.”
The DDSA 2020 will also introduce a minimum 20 week period between the start of proceedings and pronouncement of a “Conditional Order”.
People currently contemplating a divorce should be aware that the HMCTS portal through which divorce petitions are filed will close to new divorces with effect from 4pm on 31st March. Thereafter it will not be possible to file for divorce (except in urgent circumstances) until the new law comes into effect on 6 April 2022.