07 April 2022
Commentary by Simon Beccle, Partner in the Family Department and Solicitor for Tini Owens, on the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 which came into force on 6 April 2022.
On 25 June 2020 the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill passed the remaining procedural stages in Parliament and received the Royal Assent to become the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.
The new Act is designed to bring divorce law into the 21st Century by introducing no-fault or no-conduct divorce as is common in many countries throughout the world. The Act is designed to avoid one spouse having to blame the other spouse for the breakdown of the marriage, which so often has a negative effect at the outset of proceedings and which so often damages efforts to resolve issues relating to finances and children.
The catalyst for the reform of the divorce law was the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the firm’s case of Tini Owens v Hugh John Owens  UKSC41 which highlighted the shortcomings in the current law - the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 - which has been in place for approaching 50 years. In Owens, notwithstanding the fact that Mrs Owens had alleged 27 allegations of Mr Owens’ behaviour towards her which she felt made it unreasonable to expect her to live with him, the Supreme Court decided that she was not entitled to a divorce. This Judgement resulted in outcry, both nationally and internationally, such that it then became a priority of the Government to update the divorce law.
Following the Judgment in Owens, a public consultation about modernising the divorce law took place which received widespread backing from the responses received. The Bill was first introduced in Parliament in June 2019 and was brought before Parliament again in January 2020 following the December 2019 General Election. It received overwhelming cross-party support, at all stages, on its passage through Parliament. On 25 June 2020 the Bill received Royal Assent to become an Act of Parliament.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act came into force on 6 April 2022.
The new Act removes the requirement to assign blame or fault for the breakdown of a marriage and brings England and Wales into line with the legal systems of most of the Westernised world.
In addition to reducing potential conflict by removing the issue of blame from the divorce law, there are lots of positives to be taken from the new law, not least in allowing joint applications for divorce for the first time, removing the ability of one spouse to defend a divorce and simplifying the divorce terminology and language.
However, anyone thinking this law change will mean a quick divorce would be mistaken. The new law introduces a minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of the divorce proceedings and the application for a conditional order (formerly Decree Nisi) to provide spouses with a meaningful period of reflection and the chance to reconsider. There will also be a six-week period between the conditional order and the final order of divorce (formerly Decree Absolute). This means that even with the smoothest of divorces, the new process will take at least six months, compared to the three to four months under the law it has replaced.
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This publication is not intended to provide a comprehensive statement of the law and does not constitute legal advice and should not be considered as such. It is intended to highlight some issues current at the date of its preparation. Specific advice should always be taken in order to take account of individual circumstances and no person reading this article is regarded as a client of this firm in respect of any of its contents.
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