What you need to know about the new divorce laws

Written by Maya Neama on 4th April 2022

Changes to divorce legislation in England and Wales means more people will be updating their wills. This article should help to prepare you for the increase in will amendments. We hope that this information keeps you up to date on these changes and will allow you to pass on this knowledge to your clients.

For years we have all been used to divorce laws where you find yourself having to put someone at fault or to discuss someone’s behaviour. Things are all about to change, and in light of this we’ve put together a handy article to provide insight and help prepare you as much as possible for these new laws.

What is changing

New divorce laws are coming into force on the 6th of April 2022. These new laws consist of 4 main changes to the way divorces are dealt with:

  1. The ability to make allegations about the conduct of the spouse has been removed
  2. You are now allowed to end the divorce jointly or mutually 
  3. There is now a minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of the divorce proceedings and the application for the conditional order
  4. It will no longer be possible to contest a divorce (the only exceptions being on limited grounds including jurisdiction)

These new changes will be accommodated and supported by an online service to help this transition run smoothly. Between the 31st of March and the 5th of April, there will be a break in divorce proceedings for most applications to allow the government to work on that change.

The benefits of this change

One of the biggest reasons for this change is the reduction of conflict during divorce proceedings. It allows for an easier and smoother route through divorce in an attempt to avoid issues being created. In one way, this simplification of the divorce procedure has caused some concern regarding a spike in divorce rates, on the other hand however, it will assist in keeping the peace between the couple and allow for arrangements with children and future plans to be made effectively and efficiently.

There are also major benefits that stem from the minimum period of 20 weeks from the first submission, also known as the “20 weeks cooling-off period.” One of the benefits is that it allows divorcing couples to take the time to reflect on whether the divorce is the right decision for them. It ensures that the decision is the right one and that it really is what they both want. If the divorce is definitely happening and is obvious from the start, this period allows the couples to make plans for the future and makes the divorce more likely to run smoothly.

A benefit of the removal of the ability to contest a divorce is regarding domestic violence victims. The new laws intend to discourage coercive and abusive behaviour by working in a way that allows them not to stay trapped by their abusive partners who may be likely to contest the divorce and cause a delay to the proceedings.

If you have already started your application

If you want your online application to be held under the current laws, it must be submitted by 4pm on the 31st of March 2022. If you have a paper application instead then the same date and time applies but it must be received by the courts by then; if you are posting your application, you must ensure delivery to the courts is made by 4pm on the 31st March. You may wish to wait until the new laws come into force on the 6th April and wait for that digital service to come in and then restart your application.

If you haven’t started your application

Sometimes the correct documents necessary to fill out your application can take some time to collect and so it is recommended that you wait until the 6th of April before making an application. Between the 31st of March and the 5th of April, all new applications, except those that are deemed urgent, will not be accepted until the 6th of April when both the new digital and paper services will be available.

Urgent applications

Only when the issue/s of the divorce petition is deemed to be time critical will the application be seen to be urgent; you will usually need legal advice for such applications. In these cases, the courts will attempt to issue these applications and they may be considered between the 31st of March and 5th of April if necessary. Anyone with urgent applications that wants to get in touch in this small window can use the email, [email protected], until 4pm on the 5th April.

Thanks for reading!