Start of no-fault divorce delayed until next year

The introduction of no-fault divorces has been postponed until 2022. The courts minister Chris Philp made the announcement in
response to a parliamentary question.

He said the provisions of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 must be put back because not enough progress had been made in making the necessary preparations.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is now hoping to go ahead by 6 April 2022.

The cautious approach reflects the concerns expressed by critics of the bill that it will make it too easy for couples to end their marriage before exploring every avenue to find a way to stay together.

Under current law, one spouse must allege adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion in order to start divorce proceedings immediately.

Under the new law, they will only have to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

The Act also allows couples to jointly apply for a divorce, where the decision to separate is mutual.

As a safeguard against couples rushing too quickly into ending their marriage, there must be a minimum six-month period between the lodging of a petition to the divorce being made final.

The MoJ is working with the family procedure rule committee to identify what amendments are needed and to create new practice directions.

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.”

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “While we’re disappointed at the delay to the reforms, we welcome the continued commitment to ensuring the reforms are fit for purpose. It is better to have a working system in place rather than forging ahead when there are known issues.”

We shall keep clients informed of developments.

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