No-fault divorce and new protections for abuse victims

John Bolch

John Bolch

on May 24, 2021

Flares. Platform boots. The Carpenters, Atari consoles. Walkman cassette players. Grease the movie and so on...

All of these culture-defining icons first came to the world's notice in the 1970s, which is probably the last time the family law sector in the UK underwent such large-scale reforms.

In his latest article, family law blogger John Bolch outlines what's coming next and what the new protections and support will mean for you...

Two new statutes

There are major changes coming to the world of family law, arguably some of the biggest changes for fifty years. If you have any interest in the subject, you need to know what these changes are.

The changes are contained in two of recent Acts of Parliament: the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

These two statutes make sweeping reforms to the law relating to divorce and domestic abuse respectively. So what are the main provisions of the Acts?

I will begin with the reforms to divorce.

No-fault divorce
Under the law as it stands at present, anyone wanting a divorce must, unless they have been separated for at least two years, show that their spouse is to blame for the breakdown of the marriage.

They do this by proving that their spouse has committed adultery or behaved unreasonably.

All that is due to change when the new Act brings in a system of no-fault divorce, expected this autumn. Under the new system it will no longer be necessary to give any reason for the breakdown of the marriage.

All that will need to be done to start the divorce process is for one or both of the parties to file with the court a statement saying that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

Importantly, if the statement is filed by just one party the other party will no longer have the opportunity to defend the divorce – defended divorces will be a thing of the past.

Two Steps
After the statement has been filed the divorce will proceed in two steps: the making of a conditional divorce order by the court (the equivalent of the present decree nisi), and the making of the final divorce order (the equivalent of the present decree absolute).

A minimum period of twenty weeks must elapse between the start of the proceedings and the making of a conditional divorce order, and the final order cannot be made until a further six weeks have elapsed.

The divorce will therefore take a minimum of six months.

The new law has been almost universally welcomed by those involved in the family justice system. It is hoped that the removal of the ‘blame game’, which can cause unnecessary animosity between the parties, will make it more likely that they will be able to sort out arrangements for children and finances by agreement.

New protections for abuse victims
The Domestic Abuse Act, described by the Lord Chancellor as a “landmark piece of legislation” was only passed at the end of last month. It is not yet clear exactly when its provisions will come into effect. When it does, it will bring in a raft of new protections for the victims of domestic abuse.

Firstly, the Act introduces the first statutory definition of domestic abuse. And importantly it does not just cover physical abuse. It also covers controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse (such as restricting the victim’s access to money), and psychological, emotional or other abuse.

The Act also introduces new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders.
Domestic Abuse Protection Notices, which can be given by the police, will provide victims with immediate protection from abusers - while Domestic Abuse Protection Orders can be made by courts to help prevent offending, by forcing perpetrators to take steps to change their behaviour, including seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

The court can also require them to submit to electronic tagging.

New protections and support
Lastly, the Act will introduce new protections and support for victims in court. It will ensure that alleged abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts.

It will give victims better access to special measures in the courtroom to help prevent intimidation, such as protective screens and giving evidence via video link.

Hopefully, these changes, which have also been widely welcomed, will help people to recognise that they are victims of abuse, encourage them to seek the protection of the law, and give them the protection that they deserve.

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John Bolch

John Bolch

John Bolch is well-known as one of the UK’s leading family law bloggers. He gave up practising in 2009 and now works freelance as a writer on family law matters.

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