‘Biggest shake-up in divorce laws for decades’

Everything you need to know about ‘biggest shake up in divorce laws in almost 50 years’ from legal expert Sarah McCarthy at Liverpool law firm Hill Dickinson. Tony McDonough reports

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Couples will now be able to apply for a ‘no-fault’ divorce in England and Wales


On April 6 what is being described as ‘biggest shake up in divorce laws in almost 50 years’ will come into force.

Under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act for the first time married couples in England and Wales will be able to apply for a ‘no-fault’ divorce. Lawyers have been calling for the change for a number of years.

This will be big news for a number of law firms in Liverpool which offer particular expertise in family law. They include Hill Dickinson, MSB Solicitors, Morecrofts, Jackson Lees, Bell Lamb and Joynson, Weightmans and JMW Solicitors, a Manchester firm with an experienced family law team led by Beverley Jones.

Hill Dickinson’s team is led by Joanne Raisbeck. One of her team, senior chartered legal executive Sarah McCarthy, has published a comprehensive guide to what the change in law will mean for couples looking to part with the minimum of conflict.

She said: “Under existing divorce legislation, unless parties have been separated for a period of at least two years, there is a need to cite adultery or behaviour to proceed with a divorce petition. This requirement to attribute blame can often cause unnecessary tension and acrimony between a couple and can lead to an avoidable increase in legal costs.

“For many years, family lawyers have campaigned for divorce reform to a no-fault based process, and enactment of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act will at long last see this change take place.

The aim of the new process is to reduce the opportunity for conflict when a relationship breaks down, as a person will be able to start a no-fault divorce without the need to attribute blame. A further welcome feature of the new divorce process is the ability of a married couple to make a joint application.”

Ms McCarthy stresses there is no change in the grounds for divorce. There has to be an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”.

However, instead of this being evidenced by one of the existing five facts, (adultery, behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation with consent or five years’ separation) all that is now required is ‘a statement that the marriage has broken down irretrievably’.

Under the new no-fault divorce process, a respondent cannot contest the applicant’s decision to bring the marriage to an end and there are no facts to dispute. This is a significant shift from current legislation, which enables an opposing party to defend a fault-based petition potentially leading to expensive and acrimonious litigation.


Sarah McCarthy
Sarah McCarthy, a senior chartered legal executive at Hill Dickinson


“It is anticipated that a no-fault approach to divorce will enable couples to give improved focus to issues arising from their relationship breakdown in a much more collaborative and constructive way,” added Ms McCarthy.

Click here to see Hill Dickinson’s comprehensive guide to the law change

Family lawyers claim there are two peak periods when the number of people initiating divorce proceedings can rise. They are early autumn when couples and families return from holiday and the first Monday of the New Year. Both holidays and Christmas often mean people spending more time together – and can prove the final straw.

And last year, head of family law at Jackson Lees, Jenniffer Brunt, told LBN that COVID-19 lockdowns had also been a source of tension and have brought the problems of many relationships to a head.

She said: “We are seeing people approach us after months and months of being locked indoors together, when they have maybe spotted certain behaviours in their other half or when they have had the time to sit down as a couple and talk about issues in a relationship.”

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