The government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will reform the divorce process to remove the concept of fault. Many legal professionals feel current divorce law is out of date, particularly following the 2018 Owens v Owens case.
The Act was passed in June 2020 and the government is working on implementation of the changes.
The new legislation will:
- replace the ‘five facts’ with a new requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
- remove the possibility of contesting the divorce
- introduce an option for a joint application
- make sure language is in plain English, for example, changing ‘decree nisi’ to conditional order and ‘decree absolute’ to final order
These changes will also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.
We support legislation to introduce no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce will reduce conflict, allowing couples to focus on important issues like children, property and finances.
We also support:
- joint petitions
- the principle of a divorce based on the statement of irretrievable breakdown of marriage
We believe the legislation could be clearer, fairer and more accessible by reviewing:
- the notice period – it should start when a partner receives their spouse’s divorce application (date of service) rather than from the start of proceedings (when one spouse applies for divorce)
- financial proceedings – if financial proceedings (Form A) have started, no final order should be granted until a financial order has been made if either party might suffer financial prejudice by a final decree before the final financial settlement
- court fee costs – the new online divorce system will cut administration costs for the courts, so this should be reflected in application fees
- the period of reflection – there should be a three-month reflection period at the beginning of the divorce proceedings to allow separating couples time to consider their situation and get the legal advice they need. Domestic violence applications or applications that relate to children in a divorce should be available during this reflection period
The government should also reintroduce legal aid for early advice to support divorcing couples and help them understand their financial responsibilities and the needs of their children.
We believe the current court fee of £550 for divorce applications is too high and discriminates against those less able to afford it. Court fees should be reduced to reflect the fact that the new process will require less administration.
What this means for solicitors
The proposed changes should simplify current practices and reduce conflict between couples. We expect any changes to the process will be fairly easy for solicitors to implement.
Although the act received Royal Assent in June 2020, the reforms have not yet come into force. The government is still working on implementing the changes. No fault divorce is expected to be introduced in autumn 2021.
What we're doing
- June 2020 – we welcomed the passing of the act, and reiterated our views on the notice period and legal aid for early advice
- June 2020 – the bill had its committee stage in the House of Commons on 17 June
- March 2020 – the bill had its committee stage in the House of Lords on 3 March and its report stage in the House of Lords on 16 March
- February 2020 - the bill had its second reading in the House of Lords, the Law Society was mentioned 10 times and there were expressions of support from the Lords for some of our suggested improvements to the bill
- January 2020 – the bill has its first reading in the House of Lords
- December 2019 – in the Queen’s Speech the government indicated its commitment to bringing back the bill
- July 2019 – we submitted evidence to the bill committee and gave oral evidence at the Public Bill Committee hearing
- July 2019 – we welcomed the bill and urged the government to review details of the divorce process
- June 2019 – the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was introduced to the House of Commons
- April 2019 – we welcomed the government’s plans to introduce the reforms through new legislation
- December 2018 – we responded to the MoJ consultation to give our views on the government’s reform plans.
- July 2018 – Supreme Court ruling on Owens v Owens. Ministry of Justice says it will look at reforms.
- March 2018 – we commissioned research, Priced Out of Justice?, which found that the legal aid means test is preventing families in poverty from accessing justice.
- March 2017 – we advised members on the implications of Owens v Owens and lobbied government about the need for change.
- 2012 – most free or subsidised early legal advice was stopped by the government. We are campaigning for legal aid to be reintroduced for early advice, particularly in family law.
- 1996 to 2019 – we continued to support solicitors and work for improvements to family law and through our Family Law Committee.
- 1996 – we supported proposals for divorce reform that became part of the Family Law Act 1996, although these were later repealed.
The MoJ’s consultation is now closed. If you would like to get involved in our work on this topic you can find out more about our Family Law Committee.
Get involved in our early advice campaign.