The mandatory 20-week ‘cooling off’ period introduced by the government to make the divorce process less acrimonious has been shortened in what may be the first case of its kind since the reforms came into force last year.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act introduced a minimum 20-week period from the start of proceedings to a conditional order being made. The Ministry of Justice said the 20-week wait would allow ‘greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible and divorce is inevitable’.

National firm Michelmores announced last week that it had successfully applied to the court to shorten the 20-week window for its client, who has life-limiting health issues.

Sarah Green

Green: 'I went back to basics. Where can I find the answer? The answer is usually in statute.'

Sarah Green, a partner in the family team, told the Gazette that the application was about ensuring financial autonomy – any delays may have ‘detrimentally affected’ the client.

Green said she had a vague inkling that the firm could apply to shorten the 20-week timeframe. ‘Off the back of that, I thought “what have we got to lose, we might as well give it a go”. So, I went back to basics. Where can I find the answer? The answer is usually in statute.’

Section 1(8) of the Matrimonial Causes Act states that the court, dealing with a particular case, can shorten the 20-week period. The legislation does not provide a list of reasons why an exception can be made. Green worked on the basis that under the old regime, applications could be made to shorten the time between a decree nisi and decree absolute – six weeks and one day - on health grounds.

A conditional order was made 10 weeks after the divorce application was issued.