Divorce has been in the headlines recently with the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill reaching the final stages of its journey through parliament, with the reforms likely to come into place in 2021 following a period of implementation. But what does the Bill mean for couples divorcing once the new legislation is in place?
What is The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill?
The new legislation aims to end the ‘blame game’ and reduce conflict between parties going through a divorce.
The new laws will mean that couples can jointly apply for divorce to be made stating an ‘irretrievable breakdown’, which is in contrast to the current laws that require one spouse to allege adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion.
At present, both parties must provide proof for an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. The current laws also force spouses to evidence ‘unreasonable behaviour’ such as adultery, behaviour, and desertion to be the cause of the breakdown of the marriage.
Alternatively, if this cannot be evidenced then both parties must be separated for at least two years if the other spouse consents to the divorce or five years if the other spouse does not consent.
Updating legal terminology
The new laws will also seek to ensure that the process is more understandable and will update terminology used, replacing the terms “decree nisi” and “decree absolute” with “conditional order” and “final order”. “Petitioners” will also become “applicants”.
The idea behind updating the terminology is to make the legal process more accessible to the public and ensure stages are understood and clear.
Will divorces under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill be quicker than they are currently?
It has been suggested by some media commentators that the bill will introduce a new ‘Quickie Divorce’. However, in fact, one of the intentions of the bill is to make the process from the start of the divorce to the end of the divorce longer, to allow couples to reflect and to better plan for their future before the divorce has been granted.
The bill introduces a minimum overall time frame of six months from start to finish which includes a new minimum period of twenty weeks between the commencement of the proceedings and progression to a ‘Conditional Order’ (the new terminology for what is currently known as the Decree Nisi).
Previously the only time limit was that there had to be a period of six weeks and one day between the granting of the Decree Nisi and the granting of the Decree Absolute (a ‘Final Order’ under the new terminology).
Therefore currently, in theory at least, a divorce can be completed within eight weeks from start to finish. The reality in practise is that it does take longer than this, mostly as a result of backlogs at the court, although the process has become more efficient since the introduction of the online portal.
Parties are however always advised to think very carefully about concluding divorce proceedings before the court has made an order in relation to property and finances because of the potentially financially devastating consequences of one spouse dying after the conclusion of the divorce proceedings, but before a court order relating to the property and finances has been implemented.
When will the new bill become law?
At the time of writing this article, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has passed through the Houses of Parliament to become an Act. The new law is likely to be in place in 2021 following a period of implementation.