December 28, 2022
On 6 April 2022 new divorce laws came into force introducing No-Fault Divorce. Sarah Power Family Law Partner at Chadwick Lawrence explains:
Rather than having to use a divorce petition and state one of the ‘five facts’ of unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion, two-year separation or five-year separation to prove an irretrievable breakdown of marriage, a couple seeking a divorce instead simply sign a sole or joint statement that the marriage has broken down and cannot be saved. In the eyes of the law at least, the Act brings about the end of the ‘blame game’ in divorce and represents one of the biggest shifts in this area of law for more than 50 years.
Though their introduction removes the potential feeling of vindication that many spouses may feel when apportioning blame to the other for the breakdown of marriage, they represent a more conciliatory approach to the divorce process and seek to avoid unnecessary conflict, increased involvement from solicitors, and the inevitably higher costs that come with this.
The Act also reflects the fact that for many divorcing couples there is quite simply no one to blame. According to the Family Procedure Rules Committee, the new divorce process will, therefore “Allow parties to reflect in the legal process the fact that an often-difficult decision to divorce or seek a dissolution has nevertheless been a mutual one.” How, then, has the divorce process changed?
The new regime
The first thing to note about the new regime is the update in terminology:
- Petition is replaced with Application
- Petitioner becomes Applicant
- Decree Nisi is now a conditional divorce order; and
- Decree Absolute a final divorce order.
How to apply
Following the new an application can now be made by either one or both parties. Although the only ground upon which it can be brought remains that of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, it no longer must be evidenced by one of the aforementioned ‘five facts,’ but rather by a statement that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. To avoid any arguments on this point, the court must take the statement to be conclusive evidence that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and make the divorce order, as long as the parties have been married for at least 12 months.
Though the Act helps to prevent defended divorce on the basis of the five facts, the Respondent can challenge the divorce for other reasons, such as lack of jurisdiction, invalidity of the marriage, fraud and procedural non-compliance.
For the first time a joint application can be issued. If parties choose to do this, they are known as Applicant 1 and Applicant 2, rather than Applicant and Respondent. It is worth noting that a joint application can become a sole application, but that sole application cannot convert into a joint application once the divorce petition has been issued.
The time for service has also altered under the new rules. While under the existing law there is no time limit for the service of divorce petitions, the new Family Procedure Rules provide that the Applicant must take “steps to serve” the application 28 days after the date of issue of the application, even if the application must be served out of jurisdiction.
However, there is no requirement that the service is actually effected within that period. There is a new minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings (the time that the application is issued) and the conditional order, to avoid the respondent’s ability to delay the 20 week period by evading service and to allow matters to move along.
The amended Family Procedure Rules also provide that the general rule going forwards is that service will be dealt with by the Court. This will be by email unless no email address for the Respondent is provided, or a request is made for postal service only.
Acknowledgement of Service
The acknowledgment of service (by the respondent) must be completed within 14 days of service of the divorce application.
The ‘conditional order’ replaces the Decree Nisi and cannot be applied for until 20 weeks after issue of the application.
The final order, formerly the Decree Absolute, cannot be applied for until 6 weeks and 1 day after the pronouncement of the Conditional Order, and if the application is made more than 12 months after the Conditional Order the reasons for the delay must still be explained to the court before it is made final.
If a joint applicant is making a sole application for a final order, then they must give 14 days’ notice to the other party and file a certificate of service after serving the notice.
To summarise, these changes in the divorce process signal positive news for divorcing couples. Although divorce will remain an emotional and often distressing process for those involved, the removal of blame from the process at the outset and the ability to apply on a joint basis will hopefully go some way towards preventing spouses from waging war in the divorce petition and, it is hoped, avoid acrimonious litigation between couples.
Though couples may still wish to air their grievances and reasons for the relationship breakdown, the new rules will further push practitioners to encourage divorcing couples to approach this in a constructive forum such as mediation, now that the blame game – in divorce petitions at least- is no longer an option.
You can get in touch with Sarah if you need any further information or clarification on this.