The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill: what you need to know

The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill received its first reading in the House of Commons earlier this month

The Bill, which experts have referred to as the biggest ‘shake-up’ of family law in almost 50 years, will establish the rule of ‘no fault’ divorce. But what does this mean? And what will be the lasting impact on families?

In this blog, we’ll briefly summarise why the new legislation is required and what it means for divorcing couples.

How will the new law change divorce?

The Bill will remove the current requirement to evidence grounds for divorce. These are:

  • Adultery
  • Behaviour that makes continuing to live together unreasonable
  • Desertion
  • Separation of more than two years (if spouse agrees to the divorce)
  • Separation of at least five years (if spouse disagrees with the divorce).

This means a couple would only need to notify the court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down.

What else is being changed?

The new law will also remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce, as a statement alone will be conclusive evidence that a marriage has broken down.

In a bid to prevent knee-jerk decisions, however, the Bill will also Introduce a new minimum ‘cooling off’ period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a conditional order may be made.

The Government say this will allow greater opportunity for reflection and, where couples cannot reconcile and divorce is inevitable, agreeing practical arrangements for the future.

Why is the new law being introduced?

The Bill has been introduced after years of campaigning, and in particular following the 2018 Owens v Owens case. Those in favour of no-fault divorce argue that the requirement to evidence grounds for divorce causes unnecessary grief among families.

What do the experts say?

Both the Law Society and Resolution, the two leading family law bodies, agree with the decision to remove blame from divorce.

In a statement, Margaret Heathcote, the Chair of the Resolution, said: “We’re delighted that the government is introducing legislation which will help reduce conflict between divorcing couples.

“Every day, our members are helping people through separation, taking a constructive, non-confrontational approach in line with our Code of Practice. However, because of our outdated divorce laws, they’ve been working with one arm tied behind their backs.

“These proposals have the support of the public, politicians, and professionals. We, therefore, call on MPs and members of the House of Lords to pass this Bill without delay, and end the blame game for divorcing couples as soon as possible.”

The Law Society added that no-fault divorce would reduce conflict, allowing couples to focus on important issues like children, property and finances.