In Focus: When Clients' Plans Change  

What you need to know about the divorce law changes

Sarah Havers

Sarah Havers

January has long been one of the most popular months for filing for divorce as individuals seek a fresh start for the New Year. 

However, there will be those who may be tempted to wait a bit longer this year since on 6 April 2022 the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act will finally come into force.

This is the so-called 'No-Fault Divorce Law' and it enables couples to make a joint application for divorce on mutual terms, and initiate divorce proceedings without needing to cite ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or make accusations about the other’s conduct.

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It will also no longer be possible to defend a divorce petition – a route that is often a colossal waste of money and extremely acrimonious.

Representing the end of a long campaign by family lawyers for reform, the new legislation will be a game changer for couples, not least around the division of financial assets. 

By taking some of the heat out of the divorce process itself, it is hoped it will be easier for parties to focus, in a more amicable, constructive and collaborative way, on dealing with the financial issues and the arrangements for the children. 

Although divorcing under the new Act will give couples a much better chance of starting the process off on the right foot, especially when it comes to discussion division of assets, it is still important to consider these tips when it comes to the children and the money:

  1. Communication is key. If clients can speak with their partner openly and honestly, this may save a lot of acrimony and expense (both emotional and financial) in the long run. Mediation can help facilitate these discussions. Help them prioritise what is really important, such as what is truly in the children’s best interests) and avoid protracted disagreements over peripheral issues. 
  1. Encourage them to look after their mental and physical health. Encourage them to put in place the emotional support that they are going to need, as the process may be challenging at times. 
  1. Early advice can be critical to ensure that clients are on the right path. There are several good websites available which could signpost divorcees to help and guidance as they start your divorce journey. If in doubt or there are complexities about which they are unsure, of course it is vital to get professional advice early on, as this can help conclude matters swiftly and constructively.    

For some, waiting until 6 April may be too long. If so, couples will need to rely on one of the existing factors for divorce – adultery, unreasonable behaviour or certain periods of separation.

While this has the potential to result in a more contentious start to proceedings, steps can be taken by solicitors to mitigate tensions and ensure the process is as constructive as possible. 

We always advise couples to explore whether the marriage is really over or if, with professional help, there is an opportunity for reconciliation.

Starting divorce proceedings is the beginning of a journey with serious financial consequences and which inevitably impacts upon any children.

It is not a decision to be taken lightly, but with the right support from professionals, family and friends, and the upcoming change in the law, it is possible to get through the process without undue stress. 

Sarah Havers is senior associate, divorce and family, at UK law firm Stewarts