In a major change to existing divorce laws, on 25 June 2020 the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill received Royal Assent, meaning that it became an Act of Parliament.
Family lawyers have campaigned for changes to existing divorce laws for many years. Resolution, an association of family justice professionals, has led the calls for the law to be changed. Members of our own Family Team joined many other family lawyers from across the country in lobbying MPs in the House of Commons.
Existing laws dating from 1973 require anyone wishing to divorce within two years of their separation to blame the other spouse by applying on the basis of their adultery or behaviour. If they wish to avoid having to cite blame, couples must currently remain married for at least two years following their separation and, if one party does not consent to the divorce, they may have to remain married for five years. Many couples need to resolve matters with certainty sooner than this and cannot simply wait to deal with things.
Removing the “blame game” will reduce unnecessary pain and conflict at the outset of the divorce process and allow couples to focus on resolving the finances and arrangements for the children in an amicable way.
The new law, which was overwhelmingly supported by MPs, will allow couples to divorce by one or both of them providing a statement that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. They do not have to apportion fault and will be able to apply jointly. The statement of irretrievable breakdown will be followed by a minimum period of six months before the divorce can be finalised.
No fault divorce was previously included in an Act of Parliament twenty four years ago but the relevant part of the Act was never actually implemented and was later repealed.
The new law is unlikely to come into force until the autumn of 2021. There are various rules, court forms and procedures that will need to be addressed in the meantime but no fault divorce will soon be available for couples wishing to part amicably.
"“The institution of marriage will always be upheld, but when divorce cannot be avoided the law should not exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing. “These new laws will stop separating couples having to make needless allegations against one another, and instead help them focus on resolving their issues amicably. “By sparing them the need to play the “blame game”, we are removing the antagonism that this creates so families can better move on with their lives.” - Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP