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3 reasons why the new divorce rules are a game changer

3 reasons why the new divorce rules are a game changer

After half a century of using finger-pointing as a method to achieve a divorce, The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 received royal assent and eventually came into force on the 6th of April 2022. This reform has been applauded for altering this archaic area of the law. The new legislation provides a pathway for both married couples and couples in civil partnerships to divorce without the requirement of apportioning blame.

The old divorce rules

Traditionally under the s. 1(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the irretrievable breakdown of a relationship could be asserted through one of the five grounds:

  1. unreasonable behaviour;
  2. or adultery;
  3. or desertion for a continuous period of two years;
  4. or that the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of two years and having that the respondent consents to a decree being granted;
  5. or the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of five years.

Based on these grounds it was not plausible to execute a divorce without apportioning fault for a couple. The alterative was only possible in instances where a couple had separated for two years.

  1. No longer need to meet a high threshold

This new legislation eliminates the need to highlight the prerequisite behaviour or actions to substantiate that the marriage has ‘broken down irretrievably. This change in the law has been positively viewed especially in the aftermath of the outcome in Owens v Owens. Although Ms Owens presented almost fifty complaints to back up her claim, these were seen as falling short of satisfying the legal threshold to warrant a divorce. The objective test was applied to the factual complaints in the case. The need to place fault on a partner for the breakdown virtually tied her up in a marriage that was lonely, loveless, and lacking respect. Although the decision by the Supreme Court seemed harsh and unfair, the interpretation of the law was perfectly inline with the law at the time. Therefore, the unfortunate outcome, in this case, portrayed how getting divorced could be very challenging.

  1. Softer exit for both parties

This change allows for a swift and future focused transition for the couple. Important matters like property asserts, finance and children can be dealt with amicably in the absence of placing blaming. The fault element of the divorce proceedings brings about emotions, which has been deemed by some as not having a place in the law. However, others have presented the importance of showcasing emotions as the law provides a neutral position for mature discussions.

  1. Closure

Furthermore, for an agreement to be reached parties need to gain closure, which can be exhibited emotionally. However, research has found that the emotional claims and allegation associated with the blame game tender to be overtly exaggerated, framed to madden the other’s name. These tend to tie up both parties in court for years, resulting in a congested court system and expensive legal fees. This new change sets out how to achieve its goal of divorcing those who wish to divorce without the deadlock of pointing blame.

Ultimately, this change in the law creates a straightforward means to achieving divorce. However, as a novel method to the English legal system, the practical outcome is unknown and unpredictable.