What are the changes to divorce law in the UK?

In April this year, the way people can divorce changed in the UK. You don’t need to ‘blame’ a partner for anything and the only ground is that your marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down.

The old divorce law

Before the change, you needed to provide a reason for your divorce such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour. If you were separated from your partner for two years, you could apply for a divorce without a reason but as long as you had your partner’s consent. If you were separated for five years, you could apply for divorce without giving a reason and without the consent of your partner.

The new divorce law

Now, the divorce law is much more straightforward. You need a statement from either you or your partner saying that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

To get a divorce in England and Wales, you must have a marriage legally recognized in the UK and you must have been married for at least one year.

How long will it take to get divorced?

Divorce now takes 20 weeks from filing the application to a conditional order (the courts agreeing you can divorce). There is a further six-week wait from conditional order to final order. You will then receive an official document ending your marriage.

One of the key changes in this new legislation to introduce language for divorce which is now clearer and simplified to make it more accessible and understandable to all.

The main changes are as follows:

Decree nisi is now a Conditional order

Decree absolute is now a Final order

Petitioner is now Applicant

What are the advantages of the new divorce laws?

The changes to divorce law are designed to give couples and their children more time to find the appropriate support.

Aidan Jones, Chief Executive at relationships charity Relate, said: “The new legislation represents the biggest shake-up in divorce law for 50 years. It is an important step in moving away from animosity and blame being the norm, to a place where the welfare of those involved – particularly children – is at the forefront of the process. Introducing a minimum time from petition stage to ‘Decree Absolute’ is also welcome, allowing both partners to reflect on the decision and to access support such as counselling and mediation if appropriate.”

“This is far from the end of the journey, though. As a society we must encourage healthy relationships, reduce parental conflict (whether parents are together or not) and in turn improve children’s wellbeing and life chances. Relationship support services are vital to this.”

The new rules also allow couples to jointly apply for a divorce – this is particularly useful for couples who still get on well but no longer wish to be married. For example, if you and your partner have fallen out of love with one another but still get on as good friends, the new divorce laws will support this. It’s especially good news for those who wish to co-parent with their partner, as the new laws could help alleviate the stress and trauma of a divorce.

Can a divorce be contested in the UK?

A divorce cannot be contested in the UK, except in rare circumstances. The only potential exception for contesting a divorce is on the basis of jurisdiction or validity.

What is jurisdiction?

In order for a person to have jurisdiction to apply for a divorce, the courts must be satisfied that one of the following criteria is met:

  • Both people habitually reside in England and Wales
  • The applicant habitually resides in England and Wales
  • The applicant habitually resides in England and Wales for at least a year before they filed for a divorce petition
  • The applicant is habitually resident and domiciled in England or Wales for at least six months before they applied for the divorce

Birchall Blackburn Law offers a free 20-minute initial consultation, as well as a fixed-fee initial appointment, during which we will assess your circumstances. To make an enquiry, call us on 0800 614 722 or send an email to enquiries@birchallblackburn.co.uk.