On the 25th June 2020, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill became the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. If you look at the summary for the Bill before it obtained Royal assent it has quite a bland description. It was described as “a Bill to make in relation to marriage and civil partnership in England & Wales provision about divorce, dissolution and separation; and for connected purposes”. Despite its very grey description, you will no doubt have seen plenty of excitement from family law practitioners up and down the country.
Why is the act so significant for divorcing couples?
The reason for the excitement is that there has been a campaign to update the divorce legislation for several decades now. It has long been accepted that legislation that was drafted in the early 1970’s and became an Act of Parliament in 1973 is unlikely to reflect modern views on marriage, separation and divorce. To put it in to context, 1973 was also the year that the Austin Allegro was introduced. Now, I have nothing against the Allegro, but its most cutting edge and controversial design feature was it had a square steering wheel. For those too young to remember the mighty Allegro, look it up online and you will see that it would be unlikely to fly off the shelves of any modern car dealership.
Despite the amount of time that has elapsed and progress that has been made from 1973 to date, we were effectively left trying to steer and navigate our way through an often traumatic and difficult divorce where the expectations were for a legislative Tesla and all we had available to offer our clients was an Austin Allegro. Fine in 1973, but not fit for modern day purposes now.
How will the act benefit divorcing couples?
The main advantage of the new Act when it comes into force, hopefully in 2021, is that the requirement for a fault-based separation, earlier than two years from the date of separation will be removed and a no-fault divorce will be available. This is the key element to the new Act and the reason why practitioners are excited. The same practitioners who have long advocated a non-adversarial and non-confrontational approach to divorce and separation have objected to having to then make reference to allegations of unreasonable behaviour or adultery within the divorce petition. This is a real step forward for this area of practice and should have a positive impact on any couples and their children.
It is hoped that the introduction of the changes brought about by the Act from 2021 on will allow couples to undertake this difficult journey with a more modern and suitable legislative vehicle than has been the case to date.