Family lawyers today began life in a new era as ‘no fault’ divorce finally became a reality. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act comes into force today, meaning divorcing couples are no longer required to assign blame for the breakdown of their marriage. The legislation allows either or both parties to apply to the court for an order that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.
The change in the law is the culmination of years of campaigning and two stalled attempts during lockdown to put it into practice.
And some lawyers are predicting there could be a surge of work from couples who might have put off ending their marriage in the old regime.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said the legislation ends the practice of separating couples choosing between proving a fault-based fact or spending years still married, and allows them greater opportunity to move on amicably.
‘We are delighted that the divorce system – unchanged for more than 50 years – will finally be modernised to reflect the society we live in,’ said Boyce.
‘This divorce reform will bring our marriage laws into the 21st century and ensure that, in the future, separating couples and their children do not suffer unnecessary conflict.’
Nigel Shepherd, former national chair of lawyer organisation Resolution, said: 'Resolution has campaigned for this reform since we were established in the early 1980s, so the moment that it becomes law marks a significant milestone for us as an organisation.
‘But more importantly it will make a real difference to those who are sadly facing divorce and who will no longer need to play ‘the blame game’, which too often introduced or exacerbated conflict when it could have been avoided.’
There are suggestions that the reform may increase – at least initially – the number of divorce applications, as couples have been putting off taking that step until today.
Jo Edwards, head of family at London firm Forsters LLP, said: ‘The experience of other countries where they’ve moved to a no-fault system is that there is a spike when the new law comes in – in Scotland, for example, when they changed the law in 2006.’
Figures published by the Ministry of Justice last week showed that 22,683 divorce petitions were made between October and December in 2021 – down 26% from the same period in 2020. Annually, petitions were down 5% from 2020.
Lawyers will now hope that the government’s online divorce portal can stand up to any spike. HM Courts & Tribunals Services switched off the old service last Friday for all non-urgent applications and plans to turn it back on today.
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