In April 2022, divorce law changed drastically but inarguably for the better. Not many people want to divorce. For those that have to, it is very rarely a happy decision, and it is one which is shrouded in stress and worry. Being a Family Lawyer that has dealt with many marital breakdowns under the old regime, there was one consistency when being approached for advice on a divorce, that being that the divorce process only really made the breakdown of the marriage and relationship between the parties more stressful and more acrimonious.
The reason for that was that where the parties had been separated for less than two years, whoever was making the application for divorce would have to set out in writing why the other party was to “blame” for the breakdown of the relationship.
Separating couples were required to allege adultery or say that the other party had behaved in such a manner that it was unreasonable to expect the petitioning party to live with them any further.
Understandably, this caused difficulty and I was frequently asked the question, “what if we just don’t love each anymore”.
It is for this reason that the introduction of what has been termed the No-Fault Divorce Act was very welcomed. It has been almost 2 years since Divorce Petitions changed their names into Divorce Applications and parties now have no option to blame one another for the marriage breaking down. Now the divorce process is much simpler, one merely has to tell the Court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. There is no further proof needed than that.
There are many elements of the divorce process which remain the same, to include having to state that you are resident or domiciled in the UK, or at least one of the separating parties is. The process has been made easier but nearly 2 years down the line and having had the benefit of the excitement of the change in law wearing off I must say the process is still far from easy.
The Difficulties of No-Fault Divorce
Divorce still comes at a substantial cost. The Court fee for divorce is currently £593. This is still a substantial fee. The parties can elect to share the Court fee equally by submitting a Joint Application however, even sharing £593 can be a financial strain for many families. The Court do offer reduction to this fee in limited circumstances. I would urge anyone reading this Article to check their eligibility by filling out the EX160 Application Form.
Under the new law, which was introduced under the Divorce, Dissolution & Separation Act to use the formal name makes the opportunity to claim for costs from the other party in the divorce extremely difficult. What this means is if you are choosing to commence with a Sole Application of Divorce you are committing to pay the fee as described above. Furthermore, if you elect to have legal representation dealing with the divorce on your behalf you will also be responsible for their fees. You are likely to incur fees just for dealing with the divorce process (which does not include the conclusion of any matrimonial finances) in the region of £1,200 plus VAT.
The time constraints of having a divorce dealt with are still inordinately long. As ever, a married couple has to wait 12 months before they can apply for a divorce from the date of their marriage. Once you have been married a year there are no other time factors which stop you from applying for a divorce. However, once a Divorce Application has been lodged and issued by the Court there is a 20-week (almost 5 month) waiting period before parties’ can apply for their Conditional Order. The timescales and management of the process can be complicated and it can be helpful to have legal advice to guide you through the difficulties.
It is often part and parcel of the process when parties wish to divorce that they also wish to separate their matrimonial finances. It is best practice to do so, however, a financial agreement can only be finalised once you have your Conditional Order of Divorce.
A Conditional Order of Divorce marks the first stage in the divorce process. This used to be called the “Decree Nisi”. A Judge will see the Divorce Application and agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
The time taken to get to the Conditional Order phase and for the finances to be addressed can cause obvious difficulties. Parties can be separating amicably and have reached an agreement on their finances, only to be told that they will have to apply for their divorce first and wait for 20 weeks before that can be submitted to the Court. Within that 20-week period minds can change, agreements can waiver and an amicable separation can breakdown into having no communication at all.
The obligation remains for the Respondent to be aware of the divorce process. I will suggest that this process has gotten substantially easier within the new law. Within the 20-week period referenced above the Respondent is required to acknowledge the Divorce Application either through their Solicitor or directly to the Court. If they do not, the Applicant has an obligation to show that the Respondent has received the Divorce Application. Usually, this can be at an added expense as often a Process Server (who is someone who will hand deliver the Divorce Application to the Respondent) has to be instructed. Costs for that can often be in the region of £100. Given the difficulty of reclaiming your costs in Divorce Proceedings that is a cost that the Applicant will have to bear in addition to their fees already incurred.
Has the Process Improved?
In my view there is no argument to say that the process has improved and been simplified. I would state that it would be wise for any party considering a divorce to have their Application sent into the Court straightaway and then to look at financial matters. Often, parties deal with their financial agreements first but then they run into the issue described above due to the 20-week waiting period before the Agreement can be submitted to the Court.
Time will tell if the divorce procedure is more popular. Indeed, the Office of National Statistics suggest that divorce was more popular in 2021 with 113,505 couples getting divorced which is a 9.6% rise in the divorces lodged with the Court since 2020. Certainly, in my experience many separating couples were waiting for the Divorce, Dissolution & Separation Act to come into force to enable them to divorce with no more acrimony so I would not be surprised if the number of divorces this last year exceeded any year prior. Indeed, a Government statistic suggests that divorce rates did increase by a rate of some 15% in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same quarter in 2022, before the new law came into effect.
I am of the view that it is a very positive improvement in the law to see that parties are no longer being encouraged to blame the other for the breakdown in their marriage. That is a change that has seen a marked reduction in stress of separating couples which is a very welcome change. Furthermore, I am happy to see that the new process has also seen a reduction in legal fees for obtaining a divorce.
The Divorce, Dissolution & Separation Act 2022 has been a welcome and successful change.
Bridge McFarland offer a fixed fee divorce service to deal with the divorce process only (excluding financial matters) at a cost of £600 plus VAT plus the Court fee. We also offer a fixed fee preliminary advice service whereby new clients can obtain a 30-minute meeting over the telephone or video call followed by a formal Letter of Advice for between £190 and £250 plus VAT. Please contact the office today and speak with one of our secretaries in the Family Department who would be happy to assist should you wish to arrange an appointment.