No fault divorce comes to England and Wales

An important legal change due next year could see a rise in divorce numbers.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 should have been implemented in autumn 2021 but has since been deferred to April 2022. The delay could mean a divorce boom in England and Wales next year.

At present divorce in England and Wales depends on one of five ‘facts’:

  • two years’ separation with the consent of the other spouse to divorce;
  • five years’ separation without consent;
  • unreasonable behaviour;
  • adultery; and
  • desertion.

In 2019, around 44% of petitions for opposite-sex divorce were based on unreasonable behaviour.

Simplified rules

The Act replaces the five ‘facts’ with one requirement: to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown, which can be made by one spouse or jointly. If it is made individually the other spouse will not be able to contest the divorce. The process should normally take about six months from the start of legal proceedings.

These changes will not affect Scotland, which revised its divorce law in 2006, or Northern Ireland, which has similar five ‘facts’ rules to England.

One key aspect of divorce is not changing: the need to reach a financial settlement. As well as the family home and investments, it also involves the pensions of both parties. In later life divorces, these can be the most valuable single asset – a £10,000 a year deferred pension could be worth close to £250,000. Dealing with pensions is a complex area, which needs to be integrated with other, post-divorce financial planning. There is no one size fits all solution, making personal financial advice essential.

The value of your investment and any income from it can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Occupational pension schemes are regulated by The Pensions Regulator.

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