divorce solicitors

Updates to Marriage and Divorce Law in 2022

Political crises come and go, but marriage is forever. Or at least, marriage law. It can be argued honestly that this can have lasting impact more than the latest exciting pseudo-wartime legislation.

Article by Hadaway & Hadaway Divorce Solicitors in the North East, North Shields UK.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force on 06 April 2022. Here is how the matrimonial landscape will change in the UK starting from 2022.

The No-Fault Divorce Law

The largest reform of divorce law in half a century, this highly anticipated act sets up amendments and new court forms that will help people separate without official procedure forcing them to take an adversarial position to each other. This “blame game” helps no one, is the government’s view.

Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP stated:

“By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”

Here are some of the changes in the act that make no-fault divorce possible:

  • All these changes also apply to civil partnerships.
  • The requirement to provide evidence of ‘conduct’ or ‘separation’ facts is removed and replaced with a requirement to provide a ‘statement of irretrievable breakdown’ of the marriage or civil partnership.
  • The ability to defend the decision to divorce or end the civil partnership is removed.
  • Under the new law, anyone applying for a divorce or an end to their civil partnership can do so individually or jointly. In a sole application, the respondent have limited ability to dispute the applications, but may not dispute whether the marriage has broken down.
  • The introduction of a new minimum overall timeframe of 20 weeks or six months in divorce and dissolution proceedings between the start of the proceedings and when the applicants may apply for a conditional order. This is to provide a period of reflection if divorce is indeed inevitable, and where it is irreconcilable then a period of time for partners to work out their financial and/or child arrangements.
  • For the first time, joint applications for divorce, dissolution and separation are permitted – encouraged, even – as a less complex and more amicable procedure.
  • Judicial separation allows couples to live apart without divorcing or ending a civil partnership. The procedures for application are same as the above, done solely or jointly.
  • The same procedures also apply for nullity proceedings, which a marriage can be voided or if legally invalid then it never existed under the eyes for the law.

New Digital Service System

A new digital service has been built to launch on 6 April at the commencement of the Digital Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (DDSA 2022). While applicants may still use the paper forms, it is mandatory for legal representatives to use the digital service to submit the application in all divorce and dissolution proceedings. An exception would be if both applicants are represented by the same solicitor, and they would have to use the paper form as this situation is currently unsupported by the service.

Users of the digital service will need to create an account to begin. Once registered, all parties to the case will be provided with a reference number and access code to sign in to the digital service. They will be able to see all the documents and orders uploaded that are related to their case.

The digital service is not available for judicial separation, separation, or nullity proceedings.
Solicitors may file an application for financial orders digitally whether by consent or contested and the process remains the same. The use of digital service for consent applications is mandatory.

Disputing the application will have to be done offline by filing a paper form, also known as “the answer”, with the court. Not filing and serving their answer within 21 days means the other party would usually be able to continue with the divorce.

Changes in Terminology

The DDSA 2022 also updates outdated terms and phrases in the divorce and separation process. Reduction of legal jargon and antiquated courtly tones would help make the process more accessible and far less confounding for the people who need these measures.

Here are the changes and meanings:

Updated Term: Application
Historic Term Meaning: Petition
Meaning: This is the physical document/digital form submitted to the court to apply for a divorce, to dissolve (end) a civil partnership, annul a marriage or civil partnership or get a (judicial) separation (also known as a legal separation).

Updated Term: Applicant
Historic Term Meaning: Petitioner
Meaning: The applicant is the party to (which means person in) the marriage or civil partnership who submits the application to the court. They will be known as the applicant throughout the process and in a sole application, the other party will be known as the ‘respondent’. In a joint application, the parties applying together will be known as ‘applicant 1’ and ‘applicant 2’.

Updated Term: Conditional Order
Historic Term Meaning: Decree Nisi
Meaning: A conditional order is a document that says that the court does not see any reason why the parties cannot divorce, end the civil partnership, or annul the marriage. This can be applied for after the 20-week period has expired.

Updated Term: Final Order
Historic Term Meaning: Decree Absolute
Meaning: A final order is the legal document that ends the marriage/civil partnership. 43 days (6 weeks and 1 day) must pass from conditional order before the applicant can apply for a final order. If this is applied for after 12 months from the conditional order being made, the applicant will have to explain the reason for this to the court. Once received, the parties will be able to re-marry or enter another civil partnership.

Updated Term: Disputed
Historic Term Meaning: Defended
Meaning: Currently, a respondent to the divorce or dissolution proceedings can defend the application if they disagree with the ‘fact’ the applicant has relied upon for the divorce, or on other grounds for example, jurisdiction. Language has changed to dispute as it is no longer possible to defend the divorce/dissolution itself.

Updated Term: (Judicial) Separation Order
Historic Term Meaning: (Judicial) Separation Decree
Meaning: This is the document that confirms that the parties to a marriage are legally separated

Updated Term: Nullity of Marriage Order
Historic Term Meaning: Decree of Nullity
Meaning: This is the document that declares that the marriage is void or voidable (this means that no valid marriage exists or existed between two parties). Nullity of marriage orders are in the first instance conditional and then made final.

Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) ending the Gretna Green Exemption

Gretna Green is not a who, but a what. It is a parish in the border between Scotland and England. It is famous for weddings since 1754 when Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act prevented couples under the age of 21 from marrying in England or Wales without their parents’ consent. Couples who wished to marry without parental consent or legally vetoing their union could marry in Scotland where such restrictions did not apply.

A Gretna Green marriage under common law now means marriage that happen in jurisdictions that are not the residence of the parties being married to avoid restrictions imposed by the parties’ home jurisdiction. For Ireland, the town of Porpatrick is more known. Other countries might visualize casual wedding locations such as Reno or Las Vegas.

As UK Law considers teens under the age of 18 as legally being a child, this ends the concept of child marriages throughout the UK.

MP Mr. Louie French stated:

At the age of 16, a person cannot get a tattoo, vote, drive or buy alcohol. Most importantly, they are defined as a child under both the UN convention on the rights of the child and the Children Act 1989. A marriage or civil partnership is a lifelong commitment with significant legal and financial implications, and this Bill will allow girls and boys more time to grow, to be educated and to mature before making this serious commitment so that they can decide their own future.

The existing law covers cases where a parent or other party can use violence, threat, or other form of coercion in which a child may enter into a marriage. This does not cover situations where a child is caused to enter into marriage where no coercion is used. This bill closes that loophole by making it an offense to cause an under-18 individual to enter into marriage in any circumstances.

Also significant is that any marriages that take place overseas or in Scotland and Ireland, in which the any or both spouses are under 18, will not be legally recognized in England and Wales.

These changes now also applies to civil partnerships.