Salford Citizens Advice

Changes to the law about divorce:

From April the law about getting a divorce will be simplified.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (also known as the ‘DDSA’) will reform the law on divorce, dissolution, and separation from 6th April 2022 by:

∙ removing the requirement to provide evidence of ‘conduct’ or ‘separation’ facts and replacing this with a simple requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership or to obtain a judicial separation.

∙ removing the ability to defend the decision to divorce or end the civil partnership. 

∙ allowing, for the first time, joint applications for divorce, dissolution, and separation, meaning that couples can now apply together for a divorce, dissolution, or separation. 

∙ introducing a new minimum overall timeframe of six months (26 weeks) made up of a ‘minimum period’ of20 weeks in divorce and dissolution proceedings between the start of proceedings (when the court issues the application) and when the applicant(s) may apply for a conditional order and the current minimum timeframe of 6 weeks between the conditional order and when the order can be made final. This ensures that there is a period of reflection, and where divorce is inevitable, provides a greater opportunity for couples to agree the practical arrangements for the future.

∙ updating the legal language used for divorce. ‘Petition’ will become ‘Application’, ‘Petitioner’ will become ‘Applicant’, ‘Decree Nisi’ will become ‘Conditional Order’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ will become ‘Final Order’. This makes language simpler and more accessible to those outside the legal profession, and aligns across all legislation relating to divorce, dissolution, and separation. 

The government has said of these reforms:

“The DDSA represents the biggest reform of divorce laws in half a century and aims to reduce the impact that conflict and allegations of blame can have on families, and in particular, on any children. Currently, the party seeking divorce has to satisfy the court that the legal test of irretrievable breakdown is met, by citing one or more of ‘five facts’. Three facts are based on conduct, being behaviour often referred to as ‘unreasonable behaviour’, adultery, or desertion. Two ‘facts’ are based on separation. The new law will remove the requirement to assign blame, by allowing one party – or the couple jointly – to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown. No evidence will be required for this beyond a statement. 

It will also limit the ability of one party to challenge a divorce – which in some cases has allowed domestic abusers to exercise further coercive control over their victim. Divorce and dissolution applications will now only be disputed on jurisdictional grounds, on the validity of the marriage or civil partnership (if it was never valid or if the marriage or civil partnership has already legally ended), in addition to fraud and procedural compliance (for example, the marriage was not formed in accordance with relevant rules and regulations). 

The DDSA will bring divorce law in line with the government’s approach to family justice – avoiding conflict wherever possible and reducing its damaging effect on children in particular. Crucially, it will also introduce a 20-week period between the initial application and when the applicant(s) may apply for a conditional order (formerly known as the ‘decree nisi’). This will provide a meaningful period of reflection and the chance to turn back if both parties want to, or, where divorce is inevitable, it will better enable couples to cooperate and make arrangements for the future.”

Tom Togher

March 2022