The start of the New Year invariably sees the British press reporting on the “Divorce Day” phenomenon. This is the first working Monday in January, when family lawyers allegedly see a flurry of enquiries from spouses planning to separate after struggling through the Christmas holidays.
We might reasonably regard such reports as cheap copy – to be filed with similarly seasonal articles rating supermarket mince pies or suggestions for New Year’s Day walks “to blow the cobwebs away”. In our experience, whilst there can be an increase in divorce enquiries after Christmas, there isn’t a “busiest day of the year” for family lawyers. Initiating divorce proceedings is more likely to be the culmination of years of unhappiness rather than a knee-jerk reaction to a fraught holiday period. For some, even taking the first step of contacting a divorce lawyer can be daunting and difficult to prioritise.
First, seek advice
You may be contemplating divorce but are not sure if your marriage is truly at an end. Perhaps you just want to better understand your legal and financial position on divorce. If you are uncertain, individual or relationship counselling can be invaluable. If you’re in the dark about your rights and obligations, consulting a family lawyer early on can ease your concerns and help you take a fully informed view before proceeding.
Whenever appropriate, we encourage our clients to seek professional support. We’ll always explain all the options available to you, including whether separation might be preferable to divorce and the merits (or otherwise) of delaying divorce proceedings.
The real, impending D-Day
Sometimes there will be real urgency to start legal proceedings, for instance where there are domestic abuse issues or concerns that one spouse could hide or dissipate financial assets. Where there’s no urgency, there’s a new “D Day” to focus on: 6 April 2022, which marks the beginning of a no-fault divorce regime in England and Wales.
Currently, a spouse who wants to divorce must prove their marriage has “irretrievably broken down” according to one of five “facts”, the most cited being adultery and unreasonable behaviour. Spouses who would rather not get into a blame game must wait for at least two years before they can start “no fault” divorce proceedings – an unhappy prospect for those who don’t want to throw mud at each other but would rather not put their lives on hold.
The new rules
From 6 April 2022, the Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will allow anyone applying for a divorce to provide a simple statement that their marriage has broken down, without needing to explain or provide evidence for the breakdown. Indeed, it will no longer be possible to raise allegations of adultery, bad behaviour or desertion.
There will also be a new option of a joint application for divorce, as well as allowing one spouse alone to initiate the process.
The rationale behind the new regime is to reduce conflict during the legal process of divorce and separation, which can be particularly damaging for children, and to reduce the length and cost of divorce proceedings.