How to navigate the new no-fault divorce procedures and ensure your family’s security
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Introduced on April 6, 2022, no-fault divorce has removed the need for separating spouses to play the blame game and brought several changes to family law proceedings.
Whether it’s the new online divorce portal or making a joint application, it pays to familiarise yourself with all of the various aspects involved in filing for a divorce in 2022. “There are plenty of pitfalls in the separation system, so it’s essential to seek legal advice before deciding on a course of action,” says Vanessa Gillbanks, owner of Gillbanks Family Law in Suffolk.
Below, Vanessa answers your questions about no-fault divorce and shares the impact of the new legislation.
Q: How have updated no-fault laws affected couples seeking a divorce?
A: The impact of the no-fault divorce has been felt across the spectrum of family law, particularly for those at the start of the process. Previously, it was necessary to prove that the marriage had broken down irretrievably – usually through adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
The alternative was to be separated for at least five years, or two years with consent. This often led to revisiting painful times during the marriage and encouraged each party to say negative things about the other. The new legislation simply requires a statement that the marriage has broken down irretrievably to begin proceedings, lessening the potential for conflict.
Q: Have these alterations streamlined the divorce process?
A: The ability to make joint applications and apply for your divorce online has made the legal process more convenient, as well as easier to understand and access. The new forms for online divorce have also been simplified.
However, complexities when dividing financial assets, obtaining clean break settlements and sorting out living arrangements for children may still cause disagreements. This can lead to additional applications being made to the court, which could potentially increase processing time and incur greater costs for both spouses. For this reason, applicants should seek legal advice before using the new online portal.
Q: What is the process for reaching financial settlements?
A: The first stage is to fully understand the value of your matrimonial assets, as couples don’t always have a clear idea of how much they own. Assets acquired in the marriage or maintained during that period will be included, and some property and pensions acquired beforehand but maintained through the marriage may also be considered.
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The starting point is to share those assets equally, but the ratio can vary after considering each person's needs, contributions, health, ages and the length of the marriage. For example, if one person received a significant inheritance or redundancy payment and cleared the mortgage, that would potentially increase their contribution and this might affect the amount that they received.
If an agreement is reached, a request for a financial order will have to be made. Legal advice should be sought to draft or check a proposed order by consent. Simply reaching an agreement between two parties will not provide them with a clean break settlement, as the claims against each other would need to be formally dismissed.
If an agreement cannot be reached, through mediation or further discussions between the two parties, then a full financial remedy application may be submitted. This would be an additional application and can be made by either party. A judge would decide how to share the family assets. Whilst online portals are available, the process has not been fully streamlined and remains complex in many areas. Therefore, seeking legal advice would be recommended - either before or during the process.
Q: How can divorced couples make decisions about childcare?
A: The two parties are expected to reach an agreement for child arrangements. Speaking with family mediators can help, but issues involving children can be considered by the court if necessary. The court will hold the welfare of children as paramount, and will assume that involvement with both parents would be best for them unless the contrary can be shown.
To help ease the pressure and emotional burden on each party, there is now requirement to wait 20 weeks before applying for the second stage of a divorce. The aim of this gap is to allow parents time to reflect, and try to agree where any children should live and how their time is divided between them both. They can also use this time to reach agreements on any outstanding financial affairs.
Q: What are the benefits of seeking legal help from a divorce solicitor?
A: When people are going through a separation, there are a number of steps to take that aren’t always common knowledge. Especially when moving through the new procedure, it can be easy to complete a form incorrectly or tick the wrong box online. Further essential applications may not be made clear on the portal or new forms, and failure to apply can cause major complexities at a later stage.
However, having legal expertise from the start can make navigating the legal process simple. We’ll explain every stage in a clear, concise manner. This makes handling paperwork and settling negotiations less stressful, more amicable and easier for all of your family.
To learn more about the new divorce procedures, visit gillbanksfamilylaw.com or call 01206 299282.