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'No fault divorce' system approved for 2022

Parliament has this week announced an act that will bring in a no fault divorce system for 2022. Tilly Bailey & Irvine Solicitors Partner Wendy Beacom explains...

Parliament announced that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will come into force on 6 April 2022. What does this mean in essence? It will bring into being a new “no fault divorce system”.

About time many will say, and when looking back it is nearly three years ago since I highlighted the changes that were being sought by family law practitioners, spearheaded by Resolution, an organisation made up of specialist family lawyers committed to the constructive resolution of issues, were long overdue.

At the current time, save for periods of separation and adultery, if a party wishes to issue divorce proceedings shortly after their marriage has irretrievably broken down they will need to rely upon “unreasonable behaviour”. The true definition of unreasonable behaviour is “the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent”.

However, there are many instances where a party simply does not wish to rely upon the other party’s behaviour and be seen to be laying blame. There can be a number of reasons which include avoiding an increase in an already acrimonious separation, reducing the potential for conflict that may arise if the other party becomes completely offended by the allegations raised against them or even that a party has come out of an abusive relationship and just wants to end the relationship as swiftly as possible to put it behind them. In the main, parties wish to avoid potential for conflict where there are children involved and want relations between them to be as a civil as possible.

Some critics of the no fault divorce system state that it makes it too easy for parties to divorce. I disagree as in many circumstances the actual decision to end a relationship is often the most difficult aspect for a client and this is for married couples as well as unmarried couples.

If a party believes there is no future in a relationship then to avoid potential for additional conflict, a no fault divorce system has the real prospect of enabling parties to not focus on blame but to focus their minds on resolving arrangements for the children and separating their financial affairs. Perceived blame in divorce proceedings should not hinder that. Indeed myself and my colleagues are often asked if there is an alternative to blaming the other party, but also do not wish to have to wait for years to issue divorce proceedings relying upon separation periods. The legislation will also place more emphasis upon considering mediation. As a member and a Resolution accredited specialist in finance and children matters, I try to adopt a non-confrontational approach where possible in resolving issues for parties and genuinely believe that not laying the blame at the outset will assist with this.

Whilst there is a further delay in bringing this law into being (Brexit and Covid-19 having not assisted previously), one of the reasons is to enable the new online system to be adapted to the new rules. The new online system is currently proving much swifter than the traditional postal divorce system but it has had many teething problems so hopefully this delay in bringing in the new law to the new system will reduce the potential for ongoing issues.

Overall though, given that we are currently reliant upon 1973 legislation, 2022 clearly hails a new era of relevant law for parties that will be welcomed by many.

Wendy Beacom heads Tilly Bailey & Irvine's Private Family Law advisors across the north east. To discuss family law, divorce or child arrangements with our family law experts, call us on 0333 444 4422 or make a free online enquiry.