Divorce law reform faces delays

Divorce law reform faces delays

Couples seeking a no fault divorce under new legislation will now have to wait until 2022, the government has confirmed.

The implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act will now come into force on April 6, 2022, not in October as the government had originally planned.

In a written answer to a question posed by Conservative MP Jane Stevenson, published yesterday (June 7), Chris Philp, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said the original implementation date had been “ambitious”, although the bill received Royal Assent in June 2020.

He said the government had started work to identify, design and build the necessary amendments to court forms and also to amend the online digital divorce service while rules are being finalised.

But he admitted these amendments will not be finished before the end of the year.

Philp said: “The Ministry of Justice is committed to ensuring that the amended digital service allows for a smooth transition from the existing service which has reformed the way divorce is administered in the courts and improved the service received by divorcing couples at a traumatic point in their lives. 

“Following detailed design work, it is now clear that these amendments, along with the full and rigorous testing of the new system ahead of implementation, will not conclude before the end of the year.

“While this delay is unfortunate it is essential that we take the time to get this right.”

The no-fault law will require divorcing couples to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown and replace the need for evidence of conduct, such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour, or proof of separation. 

According to the government, the act provides for the biggest reform of divorce law in 50 years and will reduce conflict between couples legally ending a marriage or civil partnership as they will no longer have to blame each other for the breakdown.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our changes will help divorcing couples to resolve their issues amicably by ending the needless ‘blame game’ that can exacerbate conflict and damage a child’s upbringing.

“These measures represent the biggest reform to divorce laws in 50 years, so it is right that we take time to ensure they are implemented as smoothly as possible.”

Alongside the no fault rules, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act will remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce, as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

It also introduces a minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a conditional order of divorce may be made.

Kate Daly, co founder of divorce service Amicable, said: “We’re disappointed to hear the no fault divorce bill is due to be delayed until 2022. It’s the biggest reform to UK divorce law in 50 years, so we cannot afford to rush it, but we see first-hand the emotional toll that divorce proceedings can cause when conducted in an acrimonious, fault-finding manner.”