The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 went into effect on 6 of April 2022, otherwise known as the (No-Fault Divorce) Family Procedure Rules Amendment 2022. This reform aimed to simplify, speed up, and change the divorce process from an adversarial one into one of amicable separation.
There is no longer a need to harshly stipulate the facts and causes of the divorce by citing adultery, unreasonable behavior, or significant periods of separation. Both simply agree that the breakdown of the marriage is irretrievable for their private reasons.
This also meant an overhaul of the online divorce application process. Nearly half a year later – what has changed? Do you even need a solicitor anymore?
Yes, you do still need a solicitor
While you can apply for divorce on your own, everything else about the separation – division of shared assets, child support, custody, etc. – still needs the legal and contractual power of a solicitor.
A more palpable change in the physical world is that instead of each spouse needing to retain the services of a solicitor, it can be one lawyer for two clients. The amicable split means that only one person needs to handle the formalities of divorce and act as an aide to the negotiation. Major firms have already begun to adapt and offer this format to their clients instead of the common adversarial process.
Divorce and Financial Remedy Online Service
It is possible to solo or jointly file divorce papers online to the HM Courts & Tribunals Service via https://hmcts-access.service.gov.uk/.
Solicitors use a different application, MyHMCTS, to file and manage cases.
The HMCTS’s online platform provides an avenue to more easily file applications and serve orders and notices. Relevant papers and all other aspects of divorce documentation must still be manually prepared and terms of separation discussed with the aid of family solicitors. The Tribunal can only serve orders that have been approved by a judge.
The Offline Divorce Process
This is a quick summary of how that goes out in the real world prior to April 2022:
- The petitioner files a divorce petition at a divorce center, paying the non-returnable court fee.
- Divorce centre then sends a copy of the petition to the respondent by post.
- The responded fills out an acknowledgment form and sends it back to the divorce centre.
- The petitioner prepares the statement of truth/in support of divorce/dissolution/separation based on reasons for divorce and sends it while applying for a decree nisi/conditional order.
- A judge checks and approves the order and a certificate is sent out to the spouses.
- If there are no more unresolved financial and property matters between the two parties, applications for Financials Order may now be filed.
- Six weeks mandatory ‘think about it time’.
- The petitioner may now file for Decree Absolute (final order).
- The Divorce Centre grants the Decree/order and now both parties are divorced.
- (if applicable) Child arrangement orders and parental plans are included with (but come from a separate application) the divorce order.
Online Divorce Timetable
Online divorce is not much different from that carried out by a solicitor or a petitioner. Here is how the process may be expected to go.
Day 1: File the divorce/dissolution application online through the HMCTS online service. Pay the fixed fee of £593.
28 days: It is anticipated that the court will serve the respondent or both parties via email within 28 days, though the rules do not quite specify the time for service.
+ 14 days: After the date of service of the application to the respondent, this is the time to file an acknowledgment of the service.
20 weeks: After this minimum period after the date of issue of the application, provided that the acknowledgment of the service was filed, the applicant may apply for the conditional order.
+ 6 weeks: After the date of the conditional order one or both parties may then apply for the divorce order. If the application was made by one party, they must give 14 days’ notice to the other party of their intention to apply.
First month statistics
The benefit is that the service may file and serve the application as fast the internet will allow. HMCTS reported that they received the first acknowledgment of the served notice within 30 minutes of filing the application.
In its first month, the online divorce service:
- received 13,000 applications from couples applying to end their marriage
- received 2,771 joint applications for divorce
- received 10,207 sole applications
The online divorce service delivers these outcomes to applicants:
- the creation of a ‘lead applicant’ for joint applications
- built-in guidance prompting applicants for missing information
- step-by-step guidance to help applicants at every stage of the application process
- automatic notifications updating on the progress of applications
The update to the service is not just for efficiency’s sake, but because;
- prior to this people could not apply for a joint divorce
- thus, separating couples had no way to arrange their affairs in a non-confrontational way
- now giving divorcing couples control over the process and builds-in time for reflection and future planning.
The service is expected to begin issuing its first Final Orders to confirm the end of marriages under the new Divorce Act by autumn of 2022.
First Quarter 2022 Divorce Statistics
As the Act took effect only in July of this year, quarterly Family Court statistics have not yet been prepared.
These first-quarter statistics are for comparison to new data once the online service builds enough data for the third or fourth quarter of 2022.
First as a reminder, the change in terminology:
- Divorce petition = Divorce application
- Petitioner = Applicant 1
- Respondent = Applicant 2
- Decree nisi = Conditional order
- Decree absolute = Final order
1) Average time of divorce proceedings = 56 weeks
From application to conditional order = 26 weeks
From conditional order to final order = 6 weeks 1 day
2) Divorce applications filed from January to March 2022: 30,154
Final orders granted: 23, 973
3) This is a decrease from the same period last year of
Granted final orders: – 20%
Expected changes since April 2022
Given that the HMCTS reported
Number of applications in 1 month: 13,000
This implies that the rate of divorce applications is not expected to vary much, only the ease by which applications are filed. The number of final orders granted is the number most in doubt.
Streamlining the divorce process is intended to take the hurt out of divorce and playing the blame game where someone needs to be ‘the bad guy’ or ‘at fault’ for the breakdown of the marriage. The court would still much prefer it if the partners were to repair their relationship.
Much less acrimonious proceedings make it more likely for those involved to reflect on their needs instead of being absorbed in finding fault and getting angry at each other, and whoever ‘wins’ the fault-finding process gets to have an advantage in the split of financial assets and child custody after the divorce.
Ironically, making the process easier might lead to fewer final divorce orders being granted.
Only time will tell.