New divorce laws come into effect on 6 April 2022. It’s important to be aware of the changes and the best way to ensure you are financially secure after getting divorced.
The new divorce laws are designed to:
- Make the process easier
- Reduce the need for couples having to make unnecessary allegations or place blame on the other
- Provide better protection for those who have suffered domestic abuse
- Reduce animosity
- Create a better foundation for families to move on with their lives
Grounds for divorce (before):
The only ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage but one party must also cite blame or wait for a period of 2 or 5 years of separation.
Grounds for divorce (after):
The new laws mean the parties only have to rely on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
Applying for divorce (before):
The current situation is that one party makes the application and the other responds.
The respondent is able to defend or cross-apply for divorce. In some situations, this allows the furthering of coercive control over the applicant.
Applying for divorce (after):
The new laws allow parties to make a joint application to the Court. This is particularly helpful where children are involved, as parents are able to show unity in their separation for the benefit of their children’s welfare.
You can still apply for a divorce individually, but your spouse can no longer defend or cross-apply. ‘Acknowledgment of service’ still requires completing. In joint applications, this should be done by both parties.
Finalising the divorce (before):
The parties must wait 20 weeks from the date the application is served, before they can apply for Decree Nisi.
They then must wait a further 6 weeks and one day before they can apply for Decree Absolute.
Finalising the divorce (after):
To simplify understanding, the Decree Nisi has been renamed ‘conditional order’. You can apply for this 20 weeks after the application is issued.
Decree Absolute has been renamed divorce or ‘dissolution final order’. You can apply for this 6 weeks after the conditional order is made.
Dealing with finances post-divorce
There is a common misconception that parties can agree how to divide their finances between them, with no need to involve the Court. However, animosity and costly disputes often arise, even after both parties have moved on and made new lives.
Where possible, it is best that parties reach agreement by consent (i.e. you both agree to the terms) and that this agreement is reflected in a ‘consent order’ – that’s a court order reflecting the financial agreement reached and approved by the Family Court.
To protect your claims, this should be done before the divorce or dissolution final order is made.
An agreement without approval of the Court is not legally binding. Until the order is formalised by the Court, either party could withdraw their agreement or make a further claim for financial provision. This can happen a long time after the divorce and even, in some circumstances, after the death of the former spouse.
Many divorcing couples are not aware of what financial claims can be made against each other.
Even if, at the time of separation, you feel there is nothing to sort out, you should still get a consent order. This is for the purpose of dismissing all claims you might have against each other in the future and upon death (this is more commonly known as a clean break). Otherwise, those claims remain open indefinitely (unless one or you both re-marry, upon which the claims are dismissed for the married party. N.B. If only one of you re-marry, the unmarried party’s claims remain open).
Another common misconception is that only assets which are in the parties’ joint names can be separated between the parties. This is certainly not the case.
When dividing assets (whether those assets are owned separately or jointly or with a third party), a benchmark of a 50/50 asset split is set to assess whether anything other than that is justified.
The court’s first consideration is the welfare of any children involved. In some cases, one person’s (or the children’s) needs will require a higher proportion of the capital assets, for example, for housing.
Sometimes, the consent/court order may reflect that one person came into the marriage with significantly greater assets than the other.
There may also be a clear difference in incomes or pension valuations, which may determine orders to benefit the lower earning party, for example.
Sadly, there is no straightforward answer. The advice and decision of the Court is based on the circumstances of each individual case and the needs of the parties and/or children at that time.
What this means to you
The new process will be more straightforward and you can now apply for a divorce online, but it is always sensible to obtain legal advice, especially before you conclude any financial agreement. Then, once the final order is made, finality is accounted for on all fronts (as much as possible).
Our specialist divorce and family solicitors have expertise in these matters and will sensitively help you through. For more information, please contact Meinir Wyn Jones (in Welsh or English) on 01938 552545.