A new way forward – Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 25th June 2020 thereby becoming law. The Bill overhauls the way, in England & Wales, married couples obtain a divorce or judicial separation and civil partners separate or dissolve their partnership.

Until now the law covering divorce and separation was contained in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which set out married couples could only divorce on the sole ground the marriage had broken down irretrievably and that the breakdown was a result of one of five facts (three relating to conduct; adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the two relating to period of separation, two years with both parties consent or five years without).

The legal process had to be initiated by one party (Petitioner) and the other party (Respondent) was required to confirm to the Court whether they agreed to the divorce or not. If the Respondent disagreed with the divorce, both parties would have to appear before a Judge in person. If the Respondent agreed to the divorce and a Judge was satisfied one of the five facts has been proven on paper, the Court could grant a Decree Nisi. This was only a conditional order and the marriage could not be brought to a formal legal end (Decree Absolute) until six weeks from the granting of the Decree Nisi had passed. Decrees of judicial separation and separation or dissolution of Civil Partnership were granted on a similar basis.

The measures introduced by the Divorce, Separation and Dissolution Act include:

  • Replacing the requirement to provide evidence of one of the five facts, with a Statement of Irretrievable Breakdown
  • Allowing parties to make a joint application for divorce
  • Removing the possibility of contesting the application to divorce but allowing a party to challenge on another basis such as jurisdiction or procedural compliance.
  • Introducing new terminology including replacing ‘Petitioner’ with ‘Applicant’, ‘Decree Nisi’ with ‘Conditional Order’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ with ‘Final Order’
  • Introducing a new minimum timetable of six months (26weeks). Both parties must confirm they agree to the application continuing, but cannot give this confirmation until 20 weeks have passed from the start of the divorce process. A further six weeks must then pass from the granting of the Conditional Order before the Final Order is granted.

Family lawyers have long campaigned for the changes this Act introduces and we all welcome a way, finally, for separating couples to bring a legal end to their relationship without placing blame, thus helping to avoid further possible acrimony.

Philcox Gray is able to advise and assist parties seeking to divorce, including assisting with the process itself, applying for financial arrangements and/or making arrangements for children.
We can be contacted on 0203 207 204 or at postroom@philcoxgray.co.uk

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